Whilst this is not prayer as such the following are reflections on the the 39 articles that help us to remeber what we are about - let us pray for our church to remain faithful to the historic
(and current) foundations of faith.
This morning we look at swearing an oath by God; but if this case, we must provide the truth. And that concludes our articles of faith - Honest!
Article 39 —
Of a Christian man’s Oath
Posted by Ros Clarke, 13 Apr
Ros Clarke concludes our
series on the 39 Articles with a look at Christian honesty in a post-truth world.
ARTICLE XXXIX — OF A
CHRISTIAN MAN’S OATH
As we confess that vain and
rash Swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ, and James his Apostle, so we judge, that Christian Religion doth not prohibit, but that a man may swear when the Magistrate
requireth, in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the Prophet’s teaching, in justice, judgement, and truth.
And so we come, if not
precisely to the climax, certainly to the end of the 39 Articles, with this brief statement permitting the swearing of oaths in court. Oath swearing was an extremely significant feature of both
political and spiritual realms in the sixteenth century. Indeed, it could be argued that the English Reformation as a whole was enacted through the swearing of oaths. The assent of the people to the
will of the monarch was achieved by compelling them to swear oaths of loyalty and obedience.
By contrast, the continental
Anabaptist movement had been teaching that all oaths were forbidden since the early part of the century. In his Forty-Two Articles (1552), Cranmer includes a number of articles specifically directed
against the teaching of the Anabaptists, several of which were discarded in the revised Thirty-Nine Articles (1563). As an aside, this is a reminder that all creeds and confessions are products of
their historical context. Some of what was important in 1552 was already less relevant by 1563. The article on swearing oaths, however, remained.
‘Vain and rash’ swearing is
forbidden, but in a case of law, adjudicated by a magistrate, Cranmer considers that it is permissible for Christians to swear an oath. The Heidelberg Catechism, published in the same year as the
Thirty-Nine Articles, takes a similar position:
But may we swear an oath by
the name of God in a godly manner? Yes, when the government demands it of its subjects, or when necessity requires it, in order to maintain and promote fidelity and truth, to God’s glory and for our
neighbour’s good. Such oath-taking is based on God’s word and was therefore rightly used by saints in the Old and the New Testament. (Q.101)
The biblical evidence is, as
the catechism suggests, not as simple as reiterating Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:33-37 and declaring all oaths forbidden. In the Old Testament, oaths were not merely permitted, they were at times
commanded (Numbers 5:19). Even in the New Testament, Matthew 5 notwithstanding, Paul appears to make oaths, calling upon God as his witness, in 2 Corinthians 1:23 and Galatians 1:20. Hebrews 6:16
apparently commends the practice of swearing oaths.
As always in the Sermon on
the Mount, Jesus argues from an existing understanding of the law to a greater one: “You have heard it said… but I say to you.” In this case the existing understanding may be traced back to Leviticus
19:12 and Numbers 30:2. These verses prohibit false oaths and broken vows, but it seems that true oaths and kept vows are perfectly permissible. It was not the making of oaths which was forbidden,
but the breaking of them.
However, Jesus pushes the
case further, prohibiting any vows which invoke heaven, earth, Jerusalem or one’s own head as the third-party participant. There are two reasons given: heaven and Jerusalem are forbidden because they
are the throne of God and city of the great King, respectively. Swearing by one’s own head is forbidden because it is beyond the oath-taker’s control. Presumably swearing by the earth is forbidden
for a similar reason.
In order to understand why
these kinds of oaths are prohibited, it is helpful to analyse the very nature of an oath. Making an oath is a speech act which commits the speaker to the truth of his statement or the keeping of her
promise by invoking a third party as witness. If the oath is unsuccessful, i.e. the statement is false, or the promise is broken, then the third party will be dishonoured and their own
trustworthiness called into question.
The problem is: who or what
is a suitable third party? The Anabaptists believed that Christians were not permitted to make oaths because there was no appropriate third party. How can we swear by things we can’t control? And
what can we control? Not even our own lives, let alone God or his heaven! So, they argued, we can make statements and promises, but we cannot invoke any third party. Rather, Christians should be
truthful and trustworthy, and they should be known as such. Since oaths are normally only required when there is reason for doubt, there should normally be no need for Christians to use
However, Cranmer points out
that there is a situation when oaths are required, not because of any reason to doubt the speaker but rather in the pursuit of justice and truth, in the cause of faith and charity. Oaths made in the
legal setting of a court are not pointless oaths, which add nothing to the reliability of our words, nor rash promises which are easily made and easily broken. Oaths spoken in court legally and
spiritually bind the speaker to their words, and to God as their witness. Such oaths are not to be taken lightly, since the consequences of breaking them are both temporal and spiritual. To break
one’s own word is a lie; to break an oath made in God’s name is to make him a liar.
Honesty is a
rare quality in this post-truth world. Keeping promises seems to be the exception rather than the rule. We don’t need to swear by anything to keep our word and speak truth. Be the person who can be
believed and trusted, whose yes is yes, and whose no is no. But if you are called to swear an oath, make sure to do so with the truthfulness and trustworthiness of God who is your
This morning's penultimate article looks at the interaction between ownership and Christian generosity
Article 38 —
Of Christian men’s Goods, which are not common
Posted by Ed Shaw, 12 Apr
Ed Shaw balances out the two
parts of Article 38 on the Anglican doctrine of possessions.
XXXVIII — OF CHRISTIAN MEN’S
GOODS, WHICH ARE NOT COMMON
The Riches and Goods of
Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast. Notwithstanding, every man ought, of such things as he possesseth,
liberally to give alms to the poor, according to his ability.
Go back a generation or two
and the Church of England was often labelled “the Conservative Party at prayer.” More recently perceptions have changed and the left-wing bias of the established church (and most especially that of
its bishops) has been the focus of much criticism — especially in the right-wing press. Reflecting on this transformation no less an authoritative figure than Sir Humphrey Appleby posed this question
in the 1980s BBC TV series Yes Prime Minister: “Isn’t it interesting how nowadays politicians talk about morals and bishops talk about politics?”
In Article 38 we have the
Church of England of the first Elizabeth’s reign talking both politics and morals. But it’s the politics that — even then — comes first. The Reformation party in England are wanting to clearly
distance themselves from the extremists of the continental Reformation – the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists had not only sought radical changes in the Christian religion (like believers’ only baptism…)
but changes in the wider political and social orders too – including an end to the concept of private property (with Acts 4 as their biblical justification).
The Anabaptist seizure of
the German city of Münster in 1534 had trialled this proto-communist approach to possessions and been bloodily repressed after a year-long siege. From then on religious reformers needed to reassure
their political masters that they were most definitely in favour of property rights and would not seek any radical redistribution of wealth (most especially of anything belonging to these
The Church of England’s
leadership needed to clarify that they were just after religious reformation and no such wide-ranging political, economic, and social revolution; a more successful (but still not permanent) attempt
at ending private property would have to wait a few centuries for the arrival of one Karl Marx. Then the advent of Communism would breathe new life into the first clause of Article 38 and seemingly
justify accusations of the Anglican approach to politics being more to the right than the left.
But actually Article 38 is
both biblically and politically balanced. The generous giving and sharing of the early Christians was not driven by any ban on private ownership – in Acts 5 Peter makes it very clear to the deceitful
Ananias and Sapphira that their property was their own to keep or give away as they chose to (Acts 5:4). It’s not an individual’s possession of money but their love of it that troubles the apostle
Paul (1 Timothy 6:10). The first part of Article 38 would seem to be not just a politically expedient one but a justifiably biblical one too.
Any historic charges of
Anglican right-wing bias are surely undermined by the second part of Article 38. Here generosity to the poor is simply expected with no insistence on the poor being “deserving” — as has often been
demanded by those on the political right. Instead the focus is on every individual giving in proportion to their own resources — the richer are given the clear moral duty of caring for all of those
less fortunate than themselves.
Now the biblical warrant for
this comes, of course, in the much-repeated commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself, and passages on the use of financial resources like 1 Timothy 6:17-19. But in political terms the feel is
of a much more left-wing sounding redistribution of wealth. The first clause of the Article might be understood as right-leaning, but the second could be seen to take things in the opposite
politics, the moral case is clearly made: I am biblically justified in owning things, but the Bible also demands that I share those things with those in need. The church of Jerusalem asked the
apostle Paul to prioritise remembering the poor – something he was eager do (Galatians 6:10). The Church of England’s foundational Articles of Religion ask all Anglicans to do the same – are we
showing the same eagerness today?
This morning we read how the church was called to speak into politics when the articles were written, but how we can apply Article 37 today.
Article 37 —
Of the Civil Magistrates
Posted by Geoffrey Firth, 11
Geoffrey Firth examines the
doctrine of the 39 Articles on church and state relations.
XXXVII — OF THE CIVIL
The King’s Majesty hath the
chief power in this Realm of England, and other his Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and
is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction.
Where we attribute to the
King’s Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God’s Word, or of the
Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen do most plainly testify; but that only prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly
Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the
civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers.
The Bishop of Rome hath no
jurisdiction in this Realm of England.
The Laws of the Realm may
punish Christian men with death, for heinous and grievous offences.
It is lawful for Christian
men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons, and serve in the wars.
To our modern ears, Article
37 sounds a little strange, uncomfortable even. It first appeared in Archbishop Parker’s reworking of the Articles in 1563, replacing a shorter and simpler statement on royal supremacy. Nevertheless
Article 37’s bold assertion that the ‘King’s Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England… whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil…’ is striking. The notion that the monarch has power over
the church may well leave us wondering as to the applicability of Article 37 in our own times.
But before we dismiss
Article 37, there are valuable insights here that rightly challenge some of our modern thinking. For sure, the Article must be approached with some caution, but that does not mean that the Article
does not speak to us today.
The context out of which the
Article appears is key to reading rightly the intention behind what is being said. In a turbulent period of history, the reformation in England begins with a rejection of the Roman Church’s assertion
of supremacy over the temporal authority, namely the King. In short, Henry VIII’s desire for divorce prompted a constitutional crisis when the Pope refused permission, prompting loud and outraged
questions over his right to assert authority over the King. That history is reflected in the Article.
Article 37 draws on Matthew
22:15-22 (paying taxes to Caesar), Romans 13:1-7, and 1 Peter 2:13-17. Paul emphatically demands, ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God,
and those that exist have been instituted by God.’ This is matched by Peter’s insistence that his readers, ‘Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.’ But exactly what does that
Being people of our own
time, we approach Article 37 in ways that divide the state and the church into two distinct categories. Contemporary society tells us that ‘religion’ is a private, individual matter and therefore
seeks to push the church out of the public square. The reasons for this are varied, but assumptions of this kind force onto Article 37 a view of life that its framers could not (rightly)
We talk in terms that make
strong distinctions between temporal and spiritual, but the Church Militant is ‘here in earth’ (as the Prayer Book puts it) and is thus manifested in a temporal realm. We cannot, as Oliver O’Donovan
says in his book on the Articles, escape the State.
Rather than imposing our
modern frame of reference on the text, O’Donovan helpfully speaks of two types of authority. The opening of Article 37 draws attention to the first kind: ‘The King’s Majesty hath the chief power in
this Realm of England…’. This is an Authority to Command. It is the government that bears responsibility for the ordering and shaping of society. The church, therefore, relies in general terms on
government, as it is government that provides the context in which the visible church exists.
But that Authority to
Command, absolute as it is, is restrained by a second authority, an Authority of Truth. It is to the Authority of Truth that the second part of Article 37 alludes: ‘we give not to our Princes the
ministering either of God’s Word, or of the Sacraments…’ This is an authority also considered elsewhere (Article 20), and it restrains the role of the government. The Church of England is a national
church, not a state church. Indeed we may go further: the King’s Majesty, the government, only has pre-eminence to command because of the prior Authority of Truth as set forth in
The position of Article 37
is helpfully summarized by O’Donovan: ‘Society, then, is one society, and the monarch’s writ runs everywhere within it, though always (and again, in every aspect of social life) subject to the
critical authority of the word of God, Which the monarch himself does not have the authority to expound or preach.’
The point is illustrated
with the Article itself. We read that ‘It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons, and serve in the wars’. The law that gives the magistrate the right to
command men to bear weapons must surely be law of God itself. As a military chaplain, my desire to say more here is very great indeed! Suffice to say, it means that those operating in the military do
not exercise authority in their own right and that the lawful fulfilment of military duties (including the taking of a life of others) is an action on behalf of the State.
And although less clearly
asserted, the same logic must underpin the article’s belief that the government has the right to carry out the death penalty (though whether that is regularly today the most expedient course is
In our own time, the Article is useful in that it pushes back against societal and cultural pressures that refuse the right of the church to be heard
in the public square. Indeed, more than that: it refuses to accept that the church can only speak when legitimacy is granted by the state. Theologically it is the other way round. The right of the
State to exercise the Authority to Command is a right given by the Authority of Truth. A thought, perhaps, to remember the next time the secularists invite us to leave our faith at the
This morning we see that although some people are called
into ordained ministry, we are all called into ministry.
Article 36 —
Of Consecration of Bishops and Ministers
Posted by David Peterson, 10
David Peterson looks at what
the 39 Articles say about ordination services.
XXXVI — OF THE CONSECRATION
OF BISHOPS AND MINISTERS
The Book of Consecration of
Archbishops and Bishops, and Ordering of Priests and Deacons, lately set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth, and confirmed at the same time by authority of Parliament, doth contain all things
necessary to such Consecration and Ordering: neither hath it any thing, that of itself is superstitious and ungodly. And therefore whosoever are consecrated and ordered according to the Rites of that
Book, since the second year of the forenamed King Edward unto this time, or hereafter shall be consecrated or ordered according to the same Rites; we decree all such to be rightly, orderly, and
lawfully consecrated and ordered.
As Rod Thomas has already
made clear, Article 23 asserts the need for those who assume the office of public preaching or ministering the Sacraments in the Congregation to be ‘lawfully called and sent to execute the same.’
This means being ‘chosen and called to this work by men who have publick authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers into the Lord’s vineyard.’ There must be a process
of discerning those with the qualifications for public ministry (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-13), and a form of authorization by those who constitute ‘the body of elders’ (1 Timothy 4:14; 5:22). The laying-on
of hands with prayer is central to this authorization for leadership in various New Testament contexts (see also Acts 6:6; 14:23). Article 36 simply affirms the validity and sufficiency of the
ordination services in the Book of Common Prayer for the formal calling and sending of those qualified for office in the Church of England.
There was no Ordinal in the
first English Prayer Book (1549), but ‘The Form and Manner of Making and Consecrating of Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons’ was published in 1550. This was an original composition,
reflecting more biblical views about the nature and purpose of these ministries. However, it retained certain customs that had arisen during the Middle Ages, such as giving the Priest the Bible in
one hand and the chalice or cup with the bread in the other, accompanied by the words ‘Take authority to preach the word of God, and to minister the holy Sacraments in this congregation, where thou
shalt be so appointed.’ Different vestments were prescribed for the different orders of ministry, and in the form of consecrating an Archbishop or Bishop a Bible was laid upon the candidate’s neck
and a pastoral staff was put into his hands.
A revised ordinal was
published as part of the new Prayer Book in 1552 in which these customs were removed. The services remained virtually unchanged until 1662, when certain verbal modifications were made, the age of
Deacons was raised from twenty-one to twenty-three, Deacons were restricted to baptizing ‘in the absence of the Priest’, new lessons and collects were added, directions about the vesture of Bishops
were given, and the words of ordination were expanded.
Based on the words of Jesus
to his disciples in John 20:22-23, the Bishop was now to say to each of the candidates for the Order of Priesthood, ‘Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God,
now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. and be thou a faithful Dispenser of the
Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.’
Recalling Paul’s words in 2
Timothy 1:6-7, Bishops were to be consecrated with the words, ‘Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Bishop in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands;
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. And remember that thou stir up the grace of God which is given thee by this Imposition of our hands; for God hath not
given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and soberness.’
Article 36, which dates from
1563, first seeks to deal with challenges about the validity of Anglican orders from Roman Catholics. It affirms that both Ordinals authorized in the time of Edward the Sixth contain ‘all things
necessary’ for the proper consecration of Archbishops and Bishops and the ordering of Priests and Deacons. Moreover, it asserts that those ordained according to those rites ‘be rightly, orderly, and
lawfully consecrated and ordered.’
Catholics have argued that
our Ordinal is deficient because it has no provision for the anointing of the hands of priests and no delivery of the sacramental ‘instruments’ (the bread and the cup). They rightly discern that
there is no intention in our liturgy to ordain candidates to a sacerdotal priesthood, involving the offering of a ‘Eucharistic sacrifice’.
Article 36 also addresses
challenges about the services containing ‘any thing that of itself is superstitious and ungodly.’ Puritan objections focused on the form of words used at the moment of ordination. Jesus’ words
‘Receive the Holy Ghost’ were associated with his breathing on them as a sign that he would give them his Spirit. In the ordination services, these words function as ‘wish-prayers’ such as Paul used
in his letters (e.g., Romans 15:5-6, 13). Although they are directed to the candidates, God is being asked to fill each one with his Spirit for the effective exercise of the ministry that is
committed to them. Jesus’ promise about forgiving or not forgiving sins relates to the ministry of the gospel (John 20:23; cf. Luke 24:47).
The exhortations and the
questions put to the candidates in our services make it abundantly clear that the fundamental task of the minister is to labour at teaching, preaching, and applying the gospel. Declaring the
forgiveness of sins to those who truly repent is a formal expression of this ministry when the church gathers, but it is not the main reason for quoting the words of Jesus to the candidates at their
Recent revisions of the
Ordinal in the Anglican Communion have tended to re-introduce ceremonies and variations of vesture in line with the Medieval traditions. Such changes are associated with modifications to the
Communion services, giving expression to a theology of Eucharistic sacrifice and sacerdotal priesthood. But Article 36 reminds us that even the simplified Ordinal of 1552 contains ‘all things
necessary’ for the proper consecration of Archbishops and Bishops and the ordering of Priests and Deacons.
Article 36 continues to challenge those who think the ordination services contain superstitious and ungodly material to understand particular words and actions within the context of the liturgy as a
This morning we see the importance of applying our faith to our lives and
that there are some homilies that we might not have read that we perhaps should. I could find these in old English here http://www.anglicanlibrary.org/homilies/
Article 35 — Of the
Posted by Gerald Bray, 8 Apr 2017
Gerald Bray explains the background and usefulness of the Anglican
Homilies, referred to as “godly and wholesome” in the 39 Articles.
XXXV — OF THE HOMILIES
The second Book of Homilies, the several titles whereof we have joined
under this Article, doth contain a godly and wholesome Doctrine, and necessary for these times, as doth the former Book of Homilies, which were set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth; and
therefore we judge them to be read in Churches by the Ministers, diligently and distinctly, that they may be understanded of the people.
Of the Names of the Homilies
1. Of the right Use of the Church.
2. Against peril of Idolatry.
3. Of repairing and keeping clean of Churches.
4. Of good Works: first of Fasting.
5. Against Gluttony and Drunkenness.
6. Against Excess of Apparel.
7. Of Prayer.
8. Of the Place and Time of Prayer.
9. That Common Prayers and Sacraments ought to be ministered in a known
10. Of the reverend estimation of God’s Word.
11. Of Alms-doing.
12. Of the Nativity of Christ.
13. Of the Passion of Christ.
14. Of the Resurrection of Christ.
15. Of the worthy receiving of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of
16. Of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost.
17. For the Rogation-days.
18. Of the State of Matrimony.
19. Of Repentance.
20. Against Idleness.
21. Against Rebellion.
Article 35 reminds us that there are two books of Homilies, or Sermons,
first issued in 1547 and 1563 respectively, that form part of the basic documents of the Church of England. They are of considerable importance for understanding both its history and its doctrine,
but few people now read them, and to all practical purposes they have gone out of use in the church.
In some ways this is a pity, because the Church of England was the only
branch of Reformed Christendom that incorporated sermons into its statements of faith, reminding us that what we believe must also be applied in our lives. The Homilies are thematic in nature, which
makes them especially important for establishing the Church’s doctrine and shaping its practice.
Some of them expound the great doctrinal themes of the Reformation for
the benefit of those who did not understand why the church had changed. They expound the nature and use of Holy Scripture, the fall of mankind, salvation by Christ, the relationship between faith and
good works, and the central importance of love in the Christian life. Others are disciplinary, designed to raise the moral and spiritual standards of church members who were prone to swearing,
brawling and other forms of anti-social behaviour. There is an entire cycle in the second book that covers the main festivals of the Christian year from Christmas to Pentecost, teaching us what they
mean and why we should continue to celebrate them.
In addition to these, there are miscellaneous Homilies that deal with
subjects like marriage and adultery, the need for repentance, and the danger of idleness. A few are dedicated to the devotional life of prayer, fasting and public worship, including the need to be
reverent in church and to avoid venerating relics and statues, a medieval practice that was regarded as a form of idolatry. Finally, two of the Homilies are openly political, preaching in favour of
civil obedience and against rebellion.
Sixteenth-century England was a rough place in many ways, and the
Homilies were designed to inculcate Christian behaviour in everyday life. Some of them, like the one for Rogation Sunday, seem rather quaint today, but the doctrinal sermons are still as fresh as
they were when they were first written.
The Homilies were intended to provide churchgoers with teaching about
what the Church of England stood for and why it had embraced the Reformation. Thanks to them, the sermon as a means of establishing what we believe and communicating it to church members was deeply
ingrained in the Anglican psyche, and it has always been central to our devotional life. Modern congregations are unlikely to read or listen to the Homilies in their original form, although the
language is not nearly as old-fashioned as we might think. The problem is that some of them are very long and the formal style of writing is hard for us to follow in the age of the sound
But this does not mean that the Homilies are of no use
to us now. Properly adapted and mined for hidden treasures, modern preachers can still use them as a resource for their own sermons. They remind us that the teaching role of the church covers every
aspect of the Christian life and cannot be reduced to a few favourite topics. The Homilies keep us on our toes as Christians and continue to challenge what we believe and how we behave, reminding us
that the one leads to the other and that we need both if we are going to live in a way that will bring glory to God.
This morning we see that the most important part of our tradition is God's word.
Article 34 —
Of the Traditions of the Church
Posted by James Taylor, 7
James Taylor explores what
the 39 Articles say about tradition and uniformity.
XXXIV — OF THE TRADITIONS OF
It is not necessary that
Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men’s manners, so
that nothing be ordained against God’s Word.
Whosoever through his
private judgement, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority,
ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the
consciences of the weak brethren.
Every particular or national
Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.
Article 34 tackles the
question of uniformity of traditions in the Church, drawing on what has already been established concerning the authority of Scripture (Article 6) and of the church (Article 20). The parallel of
“Traditions and Ceremonies” in the first sentence with “ceremonies or rites” in the last, makes clear that the “Traditions of the Church” this Article is concerned with are those of practices, not of
doctrines: those “ordained only by man’s authority” and not by the authority of Scripture.
The Articles have been clear
and firm on essential doctrine. But equally clear and firm on the boundary to what is essential. Scripture is sufficient, but not exhaustive. Here, beyond that boundary, in the land of
non-essentials—things on which we may differ—Article 34 gives us principles for navigation.
Before we discuss the
principles and their value for today, however, it is well worth us noting the two ‘non-negotiables’ this Article gives us, even as we set foot in the land of non-essentials. The first is the concern
that “nothing be ordained against God’s Word”—taking us right back to Article 6. For the English Reformers, Scripture is paramount. Our doctrine is established by Scripture and our practice is to be
held up and examined in its light. Practice that is found to be contrary to Scripture is therefore wrong, but we cannot immediately rule-out a practice which is not contrary to Scripture.
The second non-negotiable
comes at the end of the Article, “that all things be done to edifying.” The language here is most likely from 1 Corinthians 14:26 (see also Romans 14:19) where, addressing what happens when God’s
people meet together, Paul insists that everything that is done must be done for the purpose of “building up.” So, when considering an aspect of our life together and whether to ordain, change or
abolish a particular practice, the Church must decide whether a course of action will build up believers in their relationship with God.
Commenting on this Article,
W. H. Griffith Thomas concludes that “we are neither to adhere obstinately to anything ancient simply because it is ancient, nor rashly to introduce anything novel because it is new. In everything
connected with ceremonies or rites the ruling principle of spiritual edification is to be kept in mind.”
So on the one hand our
practices must not go against God’s word, and on the other hand they must be for the building up of God’s people. Of course this leaves us with lots of freedom: how much water we use for baptism, how
many passages of Scripture we read in a service, how frequently we gather for the Lord’s Supper, what posture we should assume when praying in a service, what a minister ought to wear, and so on. But
Article 34 helps us further, providing us with two principles for navigation.
First, that “It is not
necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like.” The Church does not have to take the same approach to a given area of practice at all times and in all places. It is
perfectly acceptable to reach different conclusions in different places or at different times. Context matters and so long as the Church is not acting contrary to Scripture and is acting for the
building up of God’s people, different contexts may lead to different conclusions when it comes to practice.
In its original context,
this principle was to justify change in practice against the objections of Rome. With the growth of the Church amidst increasing fragmentation across Europe, the Reformers insisted on the right
of each national church to make its own decisions on matters of practice.
Second, individuals must not
“openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority,” that is, practices which have been properly
established. The Book of Common Prayer statement ‘Of Ceremonies’ takes us again to 1 Corinthians 14 and Paul’s exhortation that “all things be done among you in a seemly and due order” (1 Corinthians
14:40). Our Article takes Paul’s concern seriously, hence the open rebuke due to anyone who opposes a properly established practice.
What of this Article’s value
today? First, whilst certain revisionists seek to assure us that some “accommodation” within our practice does not change our doctrine, it is vital for us to insist that in our practice as well as
our doctrine, “nothing be ordained against God’s Word.”
Second, whilst the word of
God never changes, we are reminded that tradition is always contextual and we must not lose sight of the priority of the edification of God’s people in our own time and place.
our era of world-cities and multiculturalism we may well have questions over the legitimacy of practice being determined by the national church. But in our era of individualism and consumerism, this
Article surely has great value in calling us back to “due order.” Whilst the Reformers oppose the uniformity of Rome in this Article and give us various reasons for variety in practice, there is no
suggestion that we should embrace difference merely to be different. Might it not do us—and the watching world—good if, where we can, we stand in line with those who have gone before us, maintaining
the “common order of the Church”?
This morning we see that church discipline is necessary in
some circumstances, we also see that it is motivated by love.
Article 33 —
Of Excommunicate Persons, how they are to be avoided
Posted by Michael Nazir-Ali,
6 Apr 2017
Michael Nazir-Ali unpacks
the teaching of the 39 Articles on church discipline and reconciliation.
XXXIII — OF EXCOMMUNICATE
PERSONS, HOW THEY ARE TO BE AVOIDED
That person which by open
denunciation of the Church is rightly cut off from the unity of the Church, and excommunicated, ought to be taken of the whole multitude of the faithful, as an Heathen and Publican, until he be
openly reconciled by penance, and received into the Church by a Judge that hath authority thereunto.
The discipline of the
medieval Church had grown out of the godly, if severe, practices of the early Church in restoring sinners and apostates to its fellowship. In the course of time, however, it had not only become
extremely burdensome but also casuistical and corrupt. The Reformers were, understandably, wary of such legalism and excess of discipline, especially if one could buy oneself out of any discipline
that was imposed! They raised their voice against such corruption and abuse of discipline, but not discipline itself.
The Anglican Reformers were
critical of Rome’s excessive discipline at the time but the formularies all recognise the necessity of sufficient and godly discipline in the Church.The Book of Common Prayer, for instance, in the
rubric at the beginning of the service of Holy Communion, sets out the possibility of the ‘lesser excommunication’ or suspension from receiving Holy Communion for those who are ‘open and notorious
evil livers’ and/or have somehow wronged their neighbours, without making restitution.The Ordinal also charges those being ordained priest or consecrated bishop ‘to banish and drive away all
erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word’.
Aside from Article 33, to
which we shall presently come, Article 26 famously teaches that ‘the unworthiness of the ministers hinders not the effect of the Sacrament’. It also declares that such unworthy ministers should be
disciplined through due process. Martin Davie in his commentary on the Articles, Our Inheritance of Faith, helpfully lists a number of canons in the Canons of 1604 which prescribe discipline. He
points out that these canons distinguish between the ‘lesser excommunication’ i.e. suspension from receiving Holy Communion and the ‘greater excommunication’ which would carry heavier
penalties. Present day Canons of the Church of England reflect such discipline without, perhaps, distinguishing so clearly between the different kinds of excommunication.
This brings us to the
somewhat uncompromising wording of Article 33. In the background here is the authority given in the New Testament to the Church and her leaders to ‘bind and to loose’, to ‘forgive and to retain’ sins
(Matthew 16:13-20, John 20:19-23). The specific passage alluded to in the Article seems to be Matthew 18:15-20 where, if an errant brother does not listen even to the Church, he is to be regarded as
a Heathen and a Publican.
This in, its Jewish context,
would have meant one with whom there is no spiritual or social intercourse. Such teaching is, of course, reflected in what St Paul says about the treatment of someone in a state of grave sin (1
Corinthians 5:1-13). The Article, then, seems to be going beyond the communion rubric and to be referring to a ‘ greater excommunication’.
As the Reformation
historian, James Atkinson, has shown in his Martin Luther and the Birth of Protestantism, one of the issues which Luther confronted was how the commuting of a disciplinary penalty passed from the
whole congregation to the pastors and bishops and from thence to a rapidly centralising papacy. Neither Luther nor the Article is denying that there are those in the Church who have legitimate
authority to impose and to relax discipline. Unlike some In the Radical Reformation, the mainstream Reformers did not deny what the Article asserts, that the penalty of even the greater
excommunication might be relaxed by ‘a judge that hath authority thereunto’.
This is, in fact, the most
important element in Church discipline of any kind: the aim to bring the offender to repentance and, eventually, to restoration. In this sense, all discipline must be motivated by love and the desire
to see the offender return home. For this reason also, unless there are serious fears for the safety of others, no one under discipline should be prevented from attending divine worship and from
listening to the word of God read and preached. Whether 1 Cor 5:1-5 and 2 Cor 2:5-11 are about the same or different persons, the aim in both accounts is the salvation and the restoration of the
offender to fellowship with Christ and with his body, the Church.
It is in this light that the
controversy in the early Church about those who had apostatised in a period of persecution, is to be read. The consensus, as it emerged, was that they could be received back after due discipline, to
be determined on a case by case basis, had been exercised. Any church worthy of that name should have procedures both for determining what discipline is required for this or that offence and for the
restoration of the penitent.
We should not forget a
special category of those who are to be avoided: those who hold or teach false beliefs or who deny apostolic authority (e.g. Romans 16:17-18, 2 Thessalonians 3:14, Titus 3:10, 2 John 10,11). That is
to say, there can be doctrinal as well as moral reasons for excommunication. It should be a matter of huge disappointment to faithful Anglicans that the General Synod of the Church of England, whilst
agreeing a disciplinary procedure for clergy on moral issues, refused to do so for matters of doctrine, thus leaving the Church with only antiquated and extremely expensive processes for dealing with
discipline on doctrine.
This is especially
disappointing because the clergy are involved: that is, the very people who have the responsibility of preaching the Word ‘in season and out of season’ (2 Timothy 4:2). Both 1 Timothy and Titus show
how bishops and presbyters are to hold and teach the Faith in its wholeness. From St Cyprian we know that the early Church was hostile even to the ministry of those bishops and clergy who had
apostatised under persecution. How is doctrinal fitness to exercise episcopal or presbyteral office in the Church of England to be determined in the absence of any process?
The new liturgies of the
Church of England do not mention excommunication and the present Canons only mention suspension from Holy Communion. Yet the Book of Common Prayer remains the doctrinal and liturgical standard for
the Church of England — and its references to discipline, suspension from Communion, and excommunication as such remain in force and should be taken seriously by both clergy and laity.
Because of the establishment
of the Church of England, excommunication also originally carried with it a number of civil exclusions and penalties. Until the early 19th century excommunication was a common penalty for contempt of
both ecclesiastical and civil courts. This is, rightly, no longer the case with civil litigation but the Church continues to have responsibility for its own discipline.
As E.J. Bicknell points out
in his well known work A Theological Introduction to the Thirty–nine Articles of the Church of England, ‘we need a fresh recognition of the holiness which is required of Church members.’ This is not
a counsel of perfection nor a demand for a perfect Church, but it takes seriously the need for faithful discipleship and acknowledges that membership of the Church carries definite obligations. This
is also true a fortiori of those who have responsibilities for teaching, preaching, and leading.
The present crisis in the
Anglican Communion has arisen from a refusal to exercise godly discipline whether for individuals, office holders, dioceses, or even provinces. We must have prayerful, biblical, and robust structures
of effective discipline in place at every level of church life. Otherwise, churches as well as the Anglican Communion as a whole will lurch from one emergency to another. This is deeply damaging for
the faithful, in their growth in faith, hope, and love, and for the Church as an institution that is effective, consistent and credible.
In its own
austere way, Article 33 shows us a painful but necessary part of church life. We need not use its language but its intention is biblical and asks sharp questions about the state of discipline in the
Church today. Have we any answers to give and provision to make?
This morning we look at marriage and
Article 32 —
Of the Marriage of Priests
Posted by Keith Sinclair, 5
Keith Sinclair unwraps the
teaching of the 39 Articles on marriage and celibacy.
XXXII — OF THE MARRIAGE OF
Bishops, Priests, and
Deacons, are not commanded by God’s Law, either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own
discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.
The effect of this Article
was to put marriage and singleness on the same spiritual plane in the Church of England.
Singleness, which meant a
calling not to enter sexual relations which we call “celibacy”, had become the rule for clergy in the mediaeval Roman Catholic Church, and remains the rule there today. But as it appears in the New
Testament that those in Christian leadership could be married (1 Timothy 3:1-13) and the Reformation wanted to put Scripture back as the supreme authority for the Church (see Articles 6 and 20), so
marriage was to be made possible for the clergy — whose conduct was to be on the same level as “for all other Christian men”.
In this respect the Article
is saying there is no difference between clergy and laity, what matters is God’s law and godliness for everyone in the Church, and as far as sex is concerned that means singleness or
It’s worth noting that the
elevation of celibacy for the clergy developed quite early on in the Church’s life. Jesus and Paul were of course celibate, even though in Jewish culture marriage was regarded as normal. As the
Church grew into the Gentile world, there were many other kinds of sexual relationships going on (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11) and in 1 Corinthians 7 Paul addresses the challenges of Christian ministry
and the call to singleness or marriage. There were good reasons why Christian ministers could be celibate which gradually took hold in the early centuries until it became a badge of special holiness
to be single. The new monastic communities expressed this in the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
In welcoming the biblical
rebalancing of Article 32, it’s worth us asking whether we haven’t in recovering marriage, lost something of that honouring of the single life. But the Bible does honour marriage, and the Article
allows clergy to bear witness to that goodness as much as any other Christian.
But some think that the
phrase “at their own discretion” means we can decide what marriage is as well as who we marry. Mike Ovey, in an article from Themelios in 2013 (Colonial Atheism: A Very British Vice) refers to the UK
government’s legislation on same sex marriage as in effect saying “marriage belongs to the UK Government. It belongs to it in the sense it has the right to define and shape it. It has the right to
name what is and is not marriage.”
That is not how Article 32
sees marriage. For the Article, marriage and singleness are defined and shaped and “named” by God through his law and commandments. The doctrine of marriage assumed by the Article is that set out in
the Book of Common Prayer service “The solemnisation of holy matrimony” which includes a beautiful description of marriage as well as this distinction: “For be ye well assured, that so many as are
coupled together otherwise than God’s word doth allow are not joined together by God; neither is their matrimony lawful”. Same-sex marriage may be lawful to the state, but that does not make it
lawful to God.
God’s law and commandment
are the ground of the truth of marriage, and the goal is godliness. The question, unusual to modern ears, as to whether I should marry or stay single, as well as whether it is allowed by God’s law,
is: “will marriage or singleness make me more godly?”
Perhaps you think this is
all very well, but what about the real challenges of marriage and singleness? Those who formulated this Article were well aware of the challenges facing the married and the single. If you want to see
how marriage in the 16th Century fared in comparison with the 21st Century, you may like to read the Homily on Matrimony in the Second Book of Homilies (1571) which includes the following salutary
reminder of the pressures,
“we see how wonderfully the
devil deludeth and scorneth this state, how few matrimonies there be without chidings, brawlings, tauntings, repentings, bitter cursings, and fightings. Which things whosoever doth commit, they do
not consider that it is the instigation of the ghostly enemy, who taketh great delight therein: for else they would with all earnest endeavour strive against these mischiefs, not only with prayer,
but also with all possible diligence.”
The remainder of the Homily
is devoted to what that prayer and diligence might look like!
Reading the Article today we
might pray for Bishops, Priests, and Deacons we know, married and single. We might pray for all, whatever state they are in, whether married or single. We might ask whether we are doing enough to
honour those who “vow the estate of the single life.” Perhaps the Prayer Book could have included a service to solemnise that vow, or perhaps the Church should do so now?
was very much a reaction to an abuse in the Church in the past. But we could pray for the abuses that threaten the life of the Church today in relation to marriage, praying for the authority and
truth of scripture to shape our common life now as then, that in our experience of Christian marriage amongst the ordained and all Christian people, we may be grounded in God’s law and commandments
and come to serve better to godliness.
This morning we see that Jesus has secured our salvation once and forever - let us praise him!
Article 31 —
Of the one Oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross
Posted by Ed Loane, 4 Apr
Ed Loane rejoices in the
sufficiency of the cross, as expounded by the 39 Articles.
XXXI — OF THE ONE OBLATION
OF CHRIST FINISHED UPON THE CROSS
The Offering of Christ once
made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore
the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous
Article 31 is the last of
the articles dealing with the sacraments (25-31). Yet the first sentence is so obviously related to the work of Christ and its soteriological significance that it almost feels like it belongs with
the articles which deal with the doctrine of salvation through Christ alone (11-18). This is an example of the interrelated nature of Christian doctrine and the way the sacramental teaching of the
church has the potential to undermine wider theological foundations.
The practices of the
medieval church, and the conciliar endorsement they received at Trent in the years immediately preceding Cranmer’s composition of this article, are an apt example of this potential becoming a
reality. The Roman church held—indeed, it continues to hold—that in the Mass, the substance of the bread and the wine changes to become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. As such, in the event of
the Mass, the sacrifice Christ made is offered again to God and its benefits are received by those present. The Reformers rejected this teaching as both unbiblical and blasphemous. On the contrary,
as Article 31 makes abundantly clear, the offering of Christ was made once and that unique event alone is the ground of a sinner’s salvation.
The notion of continually
offering sacrifices for sins is established by God for the Israelites in the Old Testament. However, the author of Hebrews makes clear that Jesus’ sacrifice was unlike those made in the Levitical
sacrificial system. ‘He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered
himself’ (Hebrews 7:27). Jesus is now in heaven, but ‘he did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again… But he has appeared once and for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin
by the sacrifice of himself’ (Hebrews 9:26-27).
In other words, Jesus
fulfils the system of perpetual offerings in his unique sacrifice where he was both priest and victim. To suggest that he needs to be offered over and over again undermines the achievement of the
WHAT DID THE CROSS
Article 31 describes Jesus’
offering as achieving ‘perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual.’ This succinct expression of deep theological truths could
hardly be stated with more acuity. It makes clear three achievements of the cross.
1. Perfect Redemption picks
up the biblical idea being bought out of slavery. An important aspect of this concept is that there has been a transfer of ownership. The Hebrews in Exodus once belonged to Pharaoh but, after
crossing the Red Sea, God made clear that they were now his treasured possession (Exodus 19:5). So also Paul states that Christians were once slaves to sin but they have been set free from sin to be
slaves to God which leads to holiness and results in eternal life (Romans 6:22, cf. John 8:31-36).
2. Propitiation refers to
the appeasing of God’s wrath. In much that passes for theology these days, this concept has been repudiated. The truth that God is love is juxtaposed with the biblical testimony that God is angry at
sin. Despite the offence it causes to modern sensibilities, both the Roman church and the Reformers were correct in their understanding that God is loving and angry at sin. Indeed, his wrath results
from his love. The unloving thing would have been to be apathetic to the disastrous effects of sin. But the testimony of Scripture is that God, motivated by love and mercy, propitiates his own wrath
against sinners, by the blood of Christ Jesus (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2).
3. Satisfaction is making
clear that the just punishment that was borne by Christ for sin has been entirely exhausted. There is nothing left to pay. There is no need for further offerings such as those represented in the
Roman Mass. Christ’s once-and-for-all offering of himself on the cross is all that is necessary (Hebrews 7-9).
Article 31 goes on to make
clear that these achievements dealt with the problem of sin. Sin enslaved people who needed redemption. Sin caused God’s wrath which needed propitiation. And sin deserved punishment which needed
Christ did this ‘for all the
sins of the whole world, both original and actual’. This phrase is pointing to the fact that because of who Christ is—God incarnate—one man’s act of obedience could make many righteous (Romans 5:19).
There is no sin a Christian can commit that is not atoned for in Christ’s death. Furthermore, there is no Christian anywhere in the world whose sin is not atoned for in Christ’s death. It is utterly
sufficient for all.
Unlike the opinion prevalent
in contemporary society, Article 31 is frank about the reality, the pervasiveness, and the consequences of sin. At the same time, the point of the article is the unique and wonderful achievement of
Christ in dealing with the problem of sin.
FREEDOM AND JOY IN CHRIST
There are numerous
applications from the doctrine articulated in Article 31. These include freedom from feelings of guilt that result from sin and rejoicing fervently at the achievement of Christ’s atoning
article was written to combat the notion that something other than Christ’s death (the Mass) could offer remission of guilt and it is at this point we should heed the article’s teaching. We can
easily fall into the trap of thinking that when we sin we need to do something to make up for it: we need to read our Bible more, we need to be more involved at church, or we need to give more to
charity. These are all good things, but none of them removes the guilt of our sin. Christ’s death alone achieves this and as a result we are called to entrust ourselves to him
This morning we see that we are all equal under
Article 30 —
Of both kinds
Posted by Kara Hartley, 3
Kara Hartley looks at why
the 39 Articles insist that communion should be with both bread AND wine for everyone.
XXX — OF BOTH
The Cup of the Lord is not
to be denied to the Lay-people; for both the parts of the Lord’s Sacrament, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.
Article 30 is the third
article relating to the Lord’s Supper. Article 28 denies the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (where the elements of bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus), insisting that
the elements are signs pointing back to Christ, not Christ himself. Article 29 argues that those without faith who partake in the Lord’s Supper are not partaking in Christ, and in fact are bringing
condemnation on themselves.
Article 30 gives
instructions of how the Lord’s Supper is to be given or administered to the congregation. It declares that both elements, and in particular the cup, are to be served to all Christian members of the
congregation. To our minds this may seem a strange instruction, as it might never have occurred to us that when we come to the Lord’s Supper we might only be offered the bread and not the cup. That’s
certainly true for me.
So why did the Reformers
feel the need to insist on this? After all when Jesus established what we’ve come to call the Lord’s Supper on the night before he died, he clearly invited the disciples to eat the bread and drink
the cup in remembrance of him (Matthew 26:26-30; Luke 22:19-22). In the early church the practice of serving both the bread and wine continued. For example in 1 Corinthians 11 as Paul instructs the
church about the correct manner in which they were to come to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it’s clear the expectation was that people would be eating the bread and drinking from the cup, linking the
practice of the Corinthians to the night before Jesus’ death (1 Corinthians 11:23-27).
Yet by the time of the
medieval church, the situation had changed. No longer was the cup offered to members of the congregation, instead it was reserved for the presiding priest. There are several theories about how this
practice emerged, though it is not entirely clear. One possibility is that due to issues around hygiene it was not right to drink from a common cup. Another is that the elements were to be so revered
that they were to be kept from human contamination. Bread was placed straight on the tongue of the recipient and the wine was withheld from the ‘common man’.
The theology which was
developed to justify giving communion in only one kind was this: because bodies have blood in them, giving only the body of Jesus meant that in reality people were in fact being given both body and
blood! They did not need the cup, and as the priest was the representative of the people before God he would take the cup for them. This simply reinforced the notion of the priest as somewhat
separate or special from the rest of the congregation and as a mediator between God and the people.
There were some rumblings
against this practice in the fifteenth century when the Hussites of Bohemia broke with the tradition of Rome and began to administer the communion in ‘both kinds’ in their congregations. Their
practice was condemned at the Council of Constance in 1415. Their leader, Jan Huss, was burned at the stake for what the council considered heresy.
The final session of the
Council of Trent, the counter-reformation council, held in the 1560’s confirmed the Decree of the Constance Council and determined that:
“…Wherefore, holy Mother
Church, knowing this her authority in the administration of the sacraments, although the use of both species has, from the beginning of the Christian religion, not been unfrequent, yet, in progress
of time, that custom having been already very widely changed, she, induced by weighty and just reasons, has approved of this custom of communicating under one species, and decreed that it was to be
held as a law; which it is not lawful to reprobate, or to change at pleasure, without the authority of the Church itself” (Session 21, Chapter 2, 1562).
The historical account of
the practice in some ways only adds to the strangeness of this article. In one sense it seems like a fairly minor if not pedantic issue. Yet, theologically, for the reformers it was important. At the
heart of this article are two important doctrines.
Firstly, the Roman practice
implied there was another mediator between God and humanity, alongside Christ. This notion was repugnant to the Reformers (see Hebrews 9:11-15). By withholding the cup from the congregation and
taking the wine himself, the priest was in fact standing in their place.
Which leads to the second
important theological truth: The Reformers conviction about the priesthood of all believers (cf. 1 Peter 2:5). This view holds that the church is a company of priests who bring to God ‘a sacrifice of
praise’ (Hebrews 13:15), and therefore there isn’t one person who stands in place of the congregation representing them to God. We all have access to God equally.
practice of receiving the communion in both kinds has become more commonplace in the Roman Catholic Church, though it is not universal. It is important to protect the practice of giving the communion
in both kinds for two significant reasons. Biblically, as the article suggests, it continues the tradition in the way Christ ordained and commanded, and in line with the early church as per 1
Corinthians 11:28. Secondly, it maintains the theological truth of the priesthood of all believers. As such it removes any notion of some mediatorial role for the priest or minister between God and
the laity. This is a sacrament for the whole church and the whole sacrament ought to be given to the each member of the congregation.
This morning we are reminded of Paul's words in 1
Corinthians 11 on how to approach communion.
Article 29 —
Of the Wicked which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord’s Supper
Posted by Charlie Skrine, 1
Charlie Skrine looks at what
the 39 Articles say about non-Christians taking Communion.
XXIX — OF THE WICKED WHICH
EAT NOT THE BODY OF CHRIST IN THE USE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
The Wicked, and such as be
void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of
Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.
Sometimes it is only when
you sit down and do a worked example that you understand a truth thoroughly. When I was 15 my local Roman Catholic priest asked me to choose whether to be a Roman Catholic or an Anglican. As we
discussed Scripture and Salvation the worked example of just one person, Mary the mother of Jesus, was very helpful to me. If she was sinless then I should be a Catholic; if she was sinful like
everybody else then I should be a Protestant.
The example of ‘the wicked…
in the use of the Lord’s Supper’ does the same job with the Sacraments. What happens when an unbeliever, or someone living in unrepentant sin, takes the bread and eats it? They certainly ‘carnally
and visibly press with their teeth’ a piece of bread. Sometimes when you’re taking a service you fear for their dentures because of how visibly they press. But is anything else happening as well? If
they also receive the true body of Christ then something physical happened to the bread and wine before it got to their teeth. If they don’t, then the bread is still bread, and the real partaking
only happens spiritually and by faith.
This truth was fully
explained in Article 25, ‘in such only as worthily receive the same they have a wholesome effect or operation’, and Article 28 ‘the Body of Christ is… eaten… only after an heavenly and spiritual
manner.’ But the worked example was so controversial that it is one of only two articles that need a reassuring quote from an Ancient Church Father (Augustine’s Homilies on the Gospel of John,
Tractate 26.18 on John 6:41-59). It was also the only article approved by the clergy in 1563 that the government kept out until 1571. For that first, nervous decade of Elizabeth’s reign it was not
politically possible to be this clear, and the Church of England only had 38 articles.
That political context means
we are able to be certain about the intention of this article. It clinches the denial of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation, and by 1570 Elizabeth had been excommunicated for a year so
there was nothing to lose with the Pope, but that isn’t really the purpose of article 29. Article 28 was already offensive enough to the Pope.
Article 29 was kept out to
leave vague the relationship between Anglicanism and Lutheranism; and it was put back in to make clear that Anglicans do not believe the Lutheran doctrine of the Real Presence. In 1577 the Lutheran
Formula of Concord made that clarity mutual and anathematised anyone who believed the doctrine of Article 29. Historians think that Elizabeth spent the 1560s hoping for an alliance with the Lutheran
princes, but by 1571 was prepared to choose doctrinal clarity over political hopes. (Stephen Hampton has a very helpful chapter in Anthony Milton’s new Oxford History of Anglicanism Volume I which
gives much more detail.)
Article 29, then, is for
anyone who wants to understand clearly the Anglican doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. We are certainly not somewhere halfway between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. In fact, we are not even
somewhere halfway between Luther and Calvin. Article 29 unambiguously commits the Church of England to the Reformed understanding when it comes to the sacraments, and unambiguously denies the
Reflecting on this article
has helped me in two practical ways. First, many of us rejoice that we have many unbelievers who come to our churches. We work hard to make them welcome, and we hope that, over time, they may come to
believe the gospel they are hearing. Article 29 makes clear that we are not doing them any good by giving them communion.
Augustine, in his sermon on
John 6, points us to the examples of rebellious Israel in the desert, Judas, and the crowd of 5000 fed by Jesus, to prove his point that pressing with your teeth only does harm. All three examples
are serious warnings, and fit with 1 Corinthians 11:29 as quoted by Article 25. This is important when much evangelism among Catholic Anglicans is based around communion services, and when many
Evangelicals are attracted to Catholic models of evangelism.
Second, this article
provides an opportunity to think again about our own reception of the bread and wine. It is very easy to think too much in physical, carnal terms about what is happening. It is also easy to receive
as if the benefits were automatic, and grounded in the religious ceremony that has just happened, rather than in what is happening inside you. Augustine encouraged his congregation to think about our
desire, our faith, and our heart not about our tongues, our teeth, and our tummies. Are we spiritually hungry? Are we trusting in Jesus and his death once for all? Are we repentant of our
the truths, and the spiritual habits that this article defends. Sometimes the worked example is crucial for really living by the truths we believe.
This morning we look at communion.
Article 28 —
Of the Lord’s Supper
Posted by Ben Cooper, 31 Mar
Ben Cooper examines the
Church of England's teaching on holy communion.
XXVIII — OF THE LORD’S
The Supper of the Lord is
not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; but rather is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily,
and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.
Transubstantiation (or the
change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath
given occasion to many superstitions.
The Body of Christ is given,
taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.
The Sacrament of the Lord’s
Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.
We live by faith and not by
sight. This, as most of us know, can be hard. Christ, the one we trust, the object of our faith, is not physically with us. We can’t see him or touch him. Can we really be sure he loves us? Is our
future with him really secure? We find ourselves crying out to Jesus like the man in Mark 9:24 — ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ We have his word to hold onto, his gospel promises. But does he give us
He does, and Article 28 is
here to protect it. This Article is a masterpiece of careful, concise, pastorally-motivated Reformed theology. And its main purpose seems to be to protect one of the means Jesus has graciously given
us to overcome our unbelief from neglect or abuse. Jesus has given us what we call the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion — for our encouragement, assurance, and perseverance in faith.
The Article protects Jesus’
purposes for the Supper in two main ways. The first is to help us think about the Supper rightly as a sacrament. The word ‘sacrament’ will perhaps seem a little obscure or unhelpfully religious to
some ears, but Article 25 has already helpfully explained that (rightly understood) sacraments are good things: gifts of God to the church, ‘effectual signs of grace and God’s good will towards us’.
They are means through which God can work to ‘quicken’ (that is, stimulate), strengthen, and confirm our faith. This is a fairly standard Reformed understanding of a sacrament.
Applied to the Lord’s
Supper, the visible — and edible! — signs of the bread and wine point us to Christ, and our redemption by his death. But these are powerful signposts. They are ‘effectual’. To the Christian taking
the bread and wine rightly, worthily and with faith, receiving the sign is nothing less than a ‘partaking’ of Christ, feeding on him and what he has done for us.
Now, the Article goes on to
clarify that this feeding is ‘in a heavenly and spiritual manner’; it is not physical. Nonetheless, if received and eaten with faith, the Supper does in a ‘spiritual manner’ connect us to Christ and
what he has done, and will be effective in evoking more faith and assurance.
The Supper works in a
believer very much like the written or spoken word of the gospel. Like the written or spoken word, it points us to Christ and brings about faith. If received with faith, it generates more faith. Like
the written or spoken gospel word, it proclaims Christ’s death (1 Corinthians 11:26). Indeed, the connection between the Supper and the written or spoken gospel word is essential (which is why the
Communion Service in the Book of Common Prayer insists that a sermon should always be preached).
But the Supper is also
distinct from the word received visually or aurally, in that it’s received through tasting, eating, and drinking. It thus expands the ways in which we encounter and connect by faith with Christ and
the truth of the gospel, bringing about a deeper remembrance, faith, and assurance. Jesus commands us, ‘Do this [tasting, eating, and drinking] in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians
11:24–25). He doesn’t merely command, ‘Remember me’.
The Supper is therefore much
more than a celebration of our love for one another. Article 28 also corrects those who might neglect the Supper, or who treat it superficially in other ways. To do so would be to short-change one
another of a God-given means of strengthening our remembrance of Christ and his death for us.
The second way Article 28
protects Jesus’ purposes for the Supper is to insist upon an orthodox understanding of its underlying Christology. By ‘orthodox Christology’, I mean that the one Lord Jesus Christ is both fully God
and fully human. It’s in this true Christ that we place our trust for salvation and find assurance — because, as a man, he took on human flesh, and then bore our sins and our death in his human body
on the cross. It matters hugely therefore that he is indeed fully human, and the Reformers rightly insisted that to be fully human means being in just one physical location at any one time. The
rubric at the end of the Communion Service in the Book of Common Prayer puts it like this:
‘the natural Body and Blood
of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural body to be at one time in more places than one’.
Quite so. To suggest that
the bread and wine somehow ‘become’ the physical human body and blood of Christ — as in the doctrine of transubstantiation and some related views — is not only nonsensical but teaches a false,
heterodox Christology. It is, the Article claims, ‘repugnant to the plain words of Scripture’ (especially those supporting the humanity of Christ or describing the Last Supper, when his physical body
and blood remained physically separate and distinct from the bread and wine). What’s more, it ‘overthrows the nature of a sacrament’, as the false Christology robs the Christian of the assurance of
salvation the Supper was supposed to strengthen.
Even more than this, when
the Supper is distorted by suggesting any kind of ‘change of substance’ in the bread and wine, it ‘has given rise to many superstitions’. It opens up the temptation to treat created things as divine
things to be adored — which, as the Communion Service rubric reminds us, is idolatry, ‘to be abhorred of all faithful Christians’. Examples include those mentioned at the end of the Article: when the
bread or wine are ‘reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped’. If such activities sound perversely weird, that’s because they are.
J.C. Ryle says this about
Article 28 in his book Knots Untied (in chapter 8, on the Lord’s Supper):
“I shall make no remark on
these words. I only ask plain churchmen to put them side by side with High Church statements about the Lord’s Supper, and to observe the utter contrariety that exists between them. I appeal to the
common sense of all impartial and unprejudiced Englishmen.”
Many of us will have thought
similar things when confronted with actual practice in ostensibly Anglican Communion Services, shuddering as we recall the plain words of Article 28 — rendered speechless by the utter contrariety
between its words and what we’re seeing. Likewise when it comes to suffering the lazy theological ineptitude of some of the Eucharistic Prayers in Common Worship.
Are we being
too sensitive, or too contentious if we complain? Well, maybe, if our only concern were to win an argument. But if we are driven by the same pastoral concern that underlies Article 28, then should we
not be similarly horrified when Christian brothers and sisters are robbed of assurance or led astray into idolatry? Why would we want to obscure or distort the Supper? It is after all a precious
component of Jesus’ loving response to us whenever we cry out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’
This morning we look at Baptism and its
Article 27 —
Posted by Glenn Davies, 30
Glenn Davies looks at the
Anglican doctrine of baptism in the 39 Articles.
XXVII — OF
Baptism is not only a sign
of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or new Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they
that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; Faith is
confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.
The last recorded words of
our Lord in Matthew’s Gospel were to his eleven disciples to go and make other disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe
all that Jesus had commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). The background to this command was the making and baptising of disciples that was part of Jesus’ earthly ministry, as it had been part of John’s (John
4:1-2). The combination of making disciples and the use of water baptism as a ‘seal’ or ‘mark’ of discipleship is striking.
The prophets of the Old
Testament would call rebellious Israel back to God with a reminder of the covenant of circumcision. ‘Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, remove the foreskin of your hearts’ (Jeremiah 4:4; 6:10; 9:25f;
cf. Deuteronomy 10:16). However, the last Old Testament prophet was John, God’s messenger sent to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming, so a new sign was required. More was needed than merely a
reminder of their circumcision; a washing of water was needed, as a sign and seal of their sins having been washed away. The ‘messenger of the covenant’ was introducing something new, and the sign of
that newness was water baptism, such that the distinction between the righteous and the wicked might once again be manifest (Malachi 3:1, 18).
Thus when Peter preached his
sermon on the Day of Pentecost, his hearers asked what should they do. Peter’s reply was clear: ‘Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of sins’
(Acts 2:38). Likewise Paul’s preaching of faith in Christ was invariably accompanied with the baptism of Christ’s new disciples (Acts 16:31ff; 19:4f), just as he had been so baptised (Acts
Article 27 first speaks of
baptism as a sign of profession and mark of difference for Christians. This was not disputed in the sixteenth century and accords with both our Lord’s and his apostles’ teaching and practice.
However, the Article then proceeds to assert that baptism is more than a sign of profession, it is also a sign of regeneration or new birth. Moreover, it is an effective sign (‘as by an instrument’),
such that those who receive it ‘rightly are grafted into the Church’. This was to counter those who thought baptism was a mere sign of human response, many of whom also rejected the baptism of
administered, is God’s sign of his inclusion of the person so baptised into the fellowship of his church. It represents God’s activity in changing the heart of the individual, a regeneration of the
Holy Spirit, or in Jesus’ words, being ‘born of the Spirit’ (John 4:8). It is no accident that baptism is a passive sacrament, unlike the Lord’s Supper, where the participant is active (‘take and
eat’). One does not baptise oneself, one is baptised by another. Such ‘passivity’ extols the very grace of God in his prior working in the human heart which elicits the response of faith. For this
reason Paul reminds his reader: ‘God saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit’ (Titus
3:5; cf. Ephesians 5:26; Hebrews 10:22).
Baptism had been abused in
the Medieval Church as a talisman or charm, such that those who were baptised considered themselves immune from God’s judgment. Article 27, by contrast, speaks of the right reception of the
sacrament—‘they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church’. In other words it is not an ‘automatically’ effective sign, anymore than circumcision was an ‘automatically’ effective sign
of salvation for Israel. The circumcision of the heart was needed; yet the circumcision of the flesh was the sign of such internal circumcision (Romans 2:29). That Paul compares the inner meaning of
circumcision (‘circumcision made without hands’) with the reality of his hearers’ own transition from death to life in the language of baptism is instructive (Colossians 2:11-12). This is primarily
the work of God in our lives, and the rightful use of baptism enables faith to be ‘confirmed, and grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.’ Whenever we witness a baptism, we are reminded of our
own baptism, of God’s promises to us, and so our own faith is strengthened and grace increased.
The final sentence of the
Article reminds us that the baptism of young children should be retained, as it is most agreeable with the institution of Christ. In contrast to the Anabaptists, the Reformers saw infant baptism as
part of Christ’s mandate ‘to make disciples of all nations.’ While it is often claimed that there is no example of infants being baptised in the New Testament, thoughtful readers of the Bible will
recognise that Paul has no difficulty in describing ‘all’ of Israel as being baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea—infants as well as adults (1 Corinthians 10:2). This would be very
misleading language if the apostle considered infants should not be baptised under the new covenant. Indeed, in the same letter, Paul describes the children of even one believer as ‘holy’, as opposed
to ‘unclean’ (1 Corinthians 7:14).
The promise of God is to us
and to our children. They are not in a neutral zone awaiting salvation. They are the Lord’s children. Not bramble bushes waiting to be grafted into the vine, but olive shoots around the table (Psalm
128:3). As surely as Paul’s letter is addressed to the ‘saints’ at Ephesus, so he includes the children of believers within the same salutation (Ephesians 6:1).
inconceivable that the new covenant would be less inclusive than the old—quite the contrary. The expansion of God’s salvation to include Jews and Gentiles does not at the same time become more
restrictive within the family. That John the Baptist would call upon people to repent and be baptised, lest they come under God’s judgment, suggests no believing Jewish parent would have left their
children on the bank to receive God’s wrath, but would have brought them forward to be baptised. Like Joshua, they too would have declared: ‘As for me and my house we will serve the Lord!’ (Joshua
This morning we see the right way to deal with those who are
ordained but live a life without reference to the bible.
Article 26 —
Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacrament
Posted by Mark Burkill, 29
Mark Burkill unpacks the
teaching of the 39 Articles on church purity and church discipline.
XXVI — OF THE UNWORTHINESS
OF THE MINISTERS, WHICH HINDERS NOT THE EFFECT OF THE SACRAMENT
Although in the visible
Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but
in Christ’s, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving of the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ’s
ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of
Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.
appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil Ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally being found guilty, by just
judgement be deposed.
It is not often that we find
liberal Anglicans quoting from the 39 Articles. Nevertheless Article 26 is a favourite with some who want to say that evangelical ministers and their congregations should accept whatever bishop they
are given and not raise questions about their teaching. Their argument is that the title of this Article states that unworthy ministers do not hinder the effect of any Sacrament they administer.
Therefore evangelicals should accept the bishop they are given. Yet the logical conclusion of that would be that a professed Buddhist could administer Christian sacraments without any problem. That
would seem bizarre and shows why it is important to understand the proper significance of this Article.
The background to the
Article lies in the error of Donatism (not a heresy as some loosely say) which was an issue in the early centuries of the church in North Africa. This error can be found in any context in which there
is misguided zeal for the purity of the church. It is about majoring over minors and breaking fellowship with faithful Christians. The error creates divisions between Christians. The great Augustine
of Hippo saw that the resolution of the issue came about through recognising that the professing church will be a mixed body containing open sinners.
At the time of the
Reformation godly Christians understandably became very upset by what Griffith Thomas calls ‘the gross lives of many of the Roman priests’. Their disgust meant that many were unwisely tempted to
accept the arguments of Anabaptists who said that Christians should be baptised by a godly minister. The first part of the Article addresses this issue and comes into our 39 Articles via Luther and
then Cranmer. It states a principle that faithful Christians need to recognise. Jesus rebuked his disciples for a version of the Donatist spirit in Mark 9:38-41. The apostle John reminds us of how
love for fellow Christians is diagnostic of real Christianity in 1 John 3-4. The apostle Paul warns us of the need to welcome a repentant offender in 2 Corinthians 1:7.
However having noted the
principle in the first part of Article 26 it is very important to note that its last paragraph was deliberately added in by Cranmer. In this, Cranmer recognises that the Donatist error is likely to
arise when the Church does not take seriously its responsibility to exercise discipline on what he terms here ‘Evil Ministers’.
And this of course is
exactly the issue we face in many parts of the Church of England today. Donatism was a misguided attempt to preserve the purity of the Christian community. It is a wrong response to a serious
problem. However we must note that both the Donatists and Augustine would have urged the necessity of separation from Pelagian or Arian heretics. In case we misunderstand Augustine, we should know
that he is quoted as saying ‘Neither must we subscribe to (i.e. obey) catholic bishops if they chance to err, or determine anything contrary to the canonical divine Scriptures’ (On the Unity of the
This concern for discipline
in the last part of Article 26 reflects biblical concerns that are found in the pastoral epistles and in Paul’s teaching about breaking fellowship in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11. And of course the same
concern is found in the Ordinal where priests (presbyters) are to ‘banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s word’. Furthermore the collect for consecrating a Bishop
refers specifically to the responsibility to administer godly discipline.
APPLYING THE ARTICLE
The point then of Article 26
is that it warns us not to make the error which the Donatists fell into in responding to ungodly behaviour in the professing church. But it also underlines the responsibility of church leaders to
deal with ungodly ministers.
If in current circumstances
you refuse to share fellowship with unfaithful congregation members or leaders who profess to be Christians, then you are exercising a discipline that has failed to be enforced by those who should.
You are not a Donatist.
Indeed those who so readily
accuse biblical Christians of Donatism should reflect on how they themselves treat any who disagree with them on biblical grounds. If the impact of their position is that they exclude godly
Christians from the fellowship of the Church then it is they who should be accused of Donatism. Article 20 warns against the Church ordaining something contrary to God’s word written. When a
conscience that is seeking to submit to the authority of Scripture cannot be accommodated within the Church then the consequences will be very grave.
What then should we do if we
face a situation when we have to work out how to respond to a church leader who by their behaviour or by their teaching causes scandal and confusion to those who are sincerely seeking to submit to
Christ and his word? The first thing is to remember what the first part of this Article 26 states. Be careful about misguided attempts to preserve the purity of the church. Sometimes ministers today
receive requests for rebaptism which are often an expression of the idea that someone’s first baptism was ‘no good’. We should not be in the business of rebaptising. The consecration of women bishops
has also made evangelical Christians think carefully about how they respond to the charge that they are only interested in having the bishops they want. We must avoid the spirit of
the face of an unfaithful church leader it is important to take the step of asking the appropriate authorities to exercise the discipline that the last part of the Article demands. If that
responsibility which the Ordinal expects is not discharged then we will have no option but to express the break in fellowship in appropriate ways ourselves. You are never guilty of the Donatist error
if you seek wise and godly discipline for those guilty of heresy.
This morning we explore what communion means to
Article 25 —
Of the Sacraments
Posted by Wallace Benn, 28
Wallace Benn takes a look at
what the 39 Articles have to say about the sacraments.
XXV — OF THE
Sacraments ordained of
Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work
invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.
There are two Sacraments
ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.
Those five commonly called
Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following
of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or
ceremony ordained of God.
The Sacraments were not
ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that
receive them unworthily purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith.
This is another article
which shows the biblical and Protestant nature of our confession of faith. It contains warnings and explanations and although penned by Cranmer is not quite in the same order as originally
I well remember as a boy, in
the then very Roman Catholic Republic of Ireland, watching a Corpus Christi procession through a town on a rainy day. Everyone but us knelt in the street as the monstrance went by. I would have too
if I believed in transubstantiation but I did not. So I am grateful for and understand the warning that “the Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that
we should duly use them.”
The Sacraments “ordained of
Christ” then are to be “duly used” and “worthily received”. What does that mean? First, we must distinguish between those sacraments of the gospel ordained by Christ and other “commonly (i.e.
wrongly) called” sacraments which may or may not have a useful place in the Christian life (matrimony, orders, and confirmation certainly do).
Secondly, we are to rightly
understand the nature of gospel sacraments. They are ‘visible words’ or visual aids to understand the gospel and the atoning work of Christ for us. They are extensions of the word preached, that
visibly reinforce the proclaimed good news. Without the word preached they lose their meaning but in the context of hearing and believing the gospel they strengthen and encourage the
Baptism visibly reminds us
in water that we need the cleansing and forgiveness of our sins, and that through the atoning sacrifice of Christ for us God has provided for our need, and brings to the believing heart a whole new
life. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of all that Christ’s death accomplished for us, that we can never safely move away from the foot of the cross in wonder and worship as we seek to live the Christian
life, and that we need his sustaining grace and help if we are to live for him as we ought.
Listen to Cranmer in his
magisterial work on the Lord’s Supper explaining this:
“These things before
rehearsed are sufficient to prove, that the eating of Christ’s flesh and drinking of his blood, is not to be understood simply and plainly, as the words do properly signify, that we do eat and drink
him with our mouths; but it is a figurative speech spiritually to be understand, that we must deeply print and fruitfully believe in our hearts, that his flesh was crucified and his blood shed, for
our redemption. And this our belief in him, is to eat his flesh and to drink his blood, although they be not present here with us, but be ascended into heaven”.
“And every good and faithful
Christian man feeleth in himself how he feedeth of Christ, eating his flesh and drinking his blood. For he putteth the whole hope and trust of his redemption and salvation in that only sacrifice,
which Christ made upon the cross, having his body there broken, and his blood there shed for the remission of his sins. And this great benefit of Christ the faithful man earnestly considereth in his
mind, chaweth (cheweth) and digested it with the stomach of his heart, spiritually receiving Christ wholly into him, and giving again himself wholly unto Christ.
And this is the eating of
Christ’s flesh and drinking of his blood, the feeling whereof is to every man the feeling how he eateth and drinketh Christ, which none evil man nor member of the Devil can do”.
The sacraments then are
spiritual food for spiritual people. The Article adds St. Paul’s warning that unworthily received (i.e. without belief and trust in Christ’s substitutionary atoning death for us) they add to our
The sacraments are “not only
badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession” (a view associated with the continental reformer Zwingli, but I think perhaps an inadequate explanation of his teaching). Rather, they are means of
encouraging and strengthening the believer’s faith generally, and particularly in times of difficulty, doubt, or despair. They are both “certain sure witnesses” that proclaim the gospel promises to
us in a concrete fashion, and also “effectual signs of grace” to those who receive them with a believing heart.
Let me use a useful but
inadequate analogy. My wedding ring means a great deal to me not because of its value in gold, but because it visibly and visually reminds me of the amazing fact that my wife loves me and has made
promises to me that reflect that. The sacraments “strengthen and confirm our Faith in him”, because we bask in, feed on, and are blessed by the wonderful fact that, as St. Paul says, “the Son of God
loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Cranmer in his preferred
words of administration in the 1552 service of Holy Communion beautifully expresses this profound and wonderful gospel theology: “Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed
on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving”. What comfort and what joy!
To sum up
then: “As the preaching of the Word makes the Gospel audible, so the sacraments make it visible, and God stirs up faith by both means” (J.I.Packer Concise
This morning, let us praise God that we are able to hear a
service in a language we can understand - there was a day when this was not the practice - read on.
Article 24 —
Speaking in the congregation in a language that people understand
Posted by Andrea Ruddick, 27
Rident stolidi verba Latina.
But Andrea Ruddick looks at why we don't speak the language of the Romans in church.
XXIV — OF SPEAKING IN THE
CONGREGATION IN SUCH A TONGUE AS THE PEOPLE UNDERSTANDETH
It is a thing plainly
repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church, to have publick Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments in a tongue not understanded by the people.
The use of vernacular
language in our church services is something that we take for granted when attending church in our home country. In the medieval period, however, Latin was the language of the Church across Europe.
This is not to say that English was never heard in church services. Most preaching to a lay audience was probably delivered in the vernacular. It was a requirement of canon law that a parish priest
should be able to speak the language of his flock in order to minister to them. Moreover, by the fifteenth century, numerous devotional texts were available in English, at least to the wealthier and
more educated sections of society.
However, public prayers and
the liturgy – notably surrounding the celebration of the Mass - remained in Latin. This did not mean that lay people were completely unable to participate in the service. They were encouraged to pray
simple Latin prayers, such as the Pater noster or Ave Maria, during the Mass and to follow the service, changing posture at appropriate moments by kneeling, raising arms in adoration, and gazing up
at the elevation of the Host, when the bread was believed to become the Body of Christ. However, the use of Latin meant that the doctrinal content of the Eucharist was shrouded in mystery and
remained the preserve of a clerical elite. As one medieval historian has put it, ‘participation was an act of faith, not comprehension.’ (M. Aston)
incomprehensibility of the liturgy, particularly during the Mass, was seen as an integral part of its value as a sacred mystery, mediated through the priest. As the Roman Catholic medieval historian,
Eamon Duffy, has explained, ‘It was part of the power of the words of consecration that they were hidden, too sacred to be communicated to the “lewed” [unlearned], and this very element of mystery
gave legitimacy to the sacred character of Latin itself, as higher and holier than the vernacular.’
Sacramental theology was not
intended to be understood or even discussed by lay people; the terminology used to discuss it by theologians had no vernacular equivalent until Wycliffe’s translation work in the late 14th century.
As one fifteenth-century commentator, probably a Dominican friar, wrote, ‘Many things are to be hidden and not shown to the people, lest being known and familiar they should be cheapened… The
mysteries of the faith are not to be communicated to the simple.’
The church did make some
attempts to provide religious education for the laity. The Lay Folks Mass Book was a late fourteenth-century rhyming manual, written in English, designed to take lay people step-by-step through the
Mass. It did not offer a translation of the liturgy, however, but provided a series of allegorical meditations for each stage of the service. In fact, its author presented lack of comprehension as a
benefit; it was, he claimed, similar to the effect of a charm upon snakes, having a positive effect on the hearer even though they did not understand it: ‘Though ye vnderstonde hit nought, / Ye may
wel wite that god hit wrought.’ [Although you do not understand it, know well that it does you good.]
By contrast, the insistence
of the reformers that the words of salvation should be accessible to all, in their own tongue, extended not just to the Bible but also to church services, a point enshrined in Article 24. The writer
of the Second Book of Homilies elaborated on this in Homily 9, drawing an analogy with the apostle Paul’s insistence in 1 Corinthians 14 that the gift of tongues should not be exercised in public
worship without interpretation. As Paul wrote, ‘Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying?... Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit,
how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is
edified’ (1 Corinthians 14:9, 16-17). The writer applied the same principle to the use of Latin; what is said in a church service should be edifying to all, ‘which cannot be, unless common prayers
and administration of sacraments be in a tongue known to the people.’
It is not the use of Latin
which represents a barrier to a congregation’s understanding in many churches today. Yet the biblical principles of intelligibility and edification as the hallmarks of fruitful corporate worship
remain relevant. Article 24 should prompt us to ask challenging questions about our church services. Are our services accessible to believers of all levels of literacy, education, and learning
ability? How many of our prayers and set forms of worship are comprehensible to the enquirer visiting church for the first time? Even when we move away from the liturgy to a more informal style of
prayer, there is a danger that our language is jargon-filled and says more about our ecclesiastical tribe than it tells the outsider about the God we worship.
Article 24 also focuses our
attention on the Lord’s Supper. Do the liturgy, gestures, and actions chosen by the minister during the communion service illuminate the gospel truths to which the sacrament points? Or do they
encourage ambiguity and misunderstanding about the nature of the sacraments? And is our theological training adequate to equip ordinands to know the difference, in contrast to the poorly educated
medieval priests who may not have had much more understanding of the Latin liturgy than their parishioners?
Intelligibility is a great asset in a church service, but it is only a means to a greater end: edification. As the writer of the Homilies put it, ‘when prayers
or the administration of Sacraments shall be in a tongue unknown to the hearers, which of them shall be thereby stirred up to lift his mind to God?’ There is little benefit to the body of Christ in
any form of worship that – deliberately or accidentally - makes a virtue of obscurity.
This morning we see that some are called into ministry, and
how that calling should be tested.
Article 23 —
Of Ministering in the Congregation
Posted by Rod Thomas, 25 Mar
Rod Thomas unpacks what the
39 Articles say about calling to ordained ministry and its public authorisation.
XXIII — OF MINISTERING IN
It is not lawful for any man
to take upon him the office of publick preaching, or ministering the Sacraments in the Congregation, before he be lawfully called, and sent to execute the same. And those we ought to judge lawfully
called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men who have publick authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers into the Lord’s vineyard.
Committed disciples of Jesus
Christ will periodically ask themselves how they can best serve the Lord within his church. For a number, this question will take the particular form of asking whether or not they ought to set their
sights on the ordained ministry. They will then, with the encouragement of senior church representatives, start wondering whether they have a ‘vocation’ or ‘calling’ for ordained ministry. If they
believe they do, then it may not seem right to them that anyone should deny them the opportunity of pursuing this goal.
Article 23 helps us to see
this issue from a more biblical standpoint. The Bible has a number of things to say about a ‘calling.’ It stresses that the first and most fundamental calling is that of God who calls people to
belong to his family (Romans 8:28-30). That same passage also tells us that once we have been adopted into his family, we are called to grow into the likeness of Christ.
However, when it comes to
our role within the church, Article 23 reminds us that ‘calling’ is primarily something that congregations do towards particular individuals, through authorised representatives: ‘And those we ought
to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men who have publick authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers into the Lord’s
So although as we shall see,
the subjective prompting of the Holy Spirit has a part to play in deciding on ordination, a calling is primarily from other people. Thus in Titus 1:5, Paul gives to Titus the responsibility of
appointing elders in every town and is given the characteristics for which he should look. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul tells Timothy to ‘entrust to faithful men’ what he has heard from Paul, so that they
can teach others also. Timothy himself only received his gift when, according to 1 Timothy 4:14, the ’council of elders laid their hands’ on him. It seems therefore that ‘selection’ by others is the
primary evidence of a calling to ordained ministry in an individual’s life.
The Church of England
therefore takes an entirely biblical approach in having a selection process for those who are going to be put forward for ordination training. The fact that the selection process can be long drawn
out and therefore frustrating to some, should not lead us to deny its place in church life.
What then should ‘selectors’
and ultimately bishops (i.e. those ‘who have publick authority given unto them in the Congregation’) be looking for in determining whether or not to call people into the ordained ministry?
Both Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3
emphasize that godliness of character is primary. This is to be looked for both in their personal conduct and habits as well as in their family relationships. They are to be ‘above reproach’ and
therefore have a good public reputation. What is more they should not be recent converts (1 Timothy 3:6), lest they become ‘puffed up.’ These are such wise words since it is all too easy to fall in
behind someone who is enthusiastic in their ministry, but whose lack of maturity has led them to glorify themselves rather than Christ.
There is an additional
requirement for overseers/elders. According to 1 Timothy 3:2, they must be ‘able to teach’. Titus 1:9 puts it like this: ‘He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able
to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.’ The primary job of the ordained minister is to teach God’s word. This doesn’t just mean standing up every Sunday and
declaring sound doctrine. Teaching certainly involves preaching, but it also involves helping people discover truths for themselves; building loving relationships and showing care, so that the
message we convey has credibility; and it is about having the courage and sensitivity to know how to put it into practice in church life — so that members of our congregations can see we are taking
the Bible’s teaching seriously.
The traditional view of
‘vocation’ is that this is the result of someone combining a gift with a personal inclination to use that gift in their everyday work. So if the Bible tells us that ‘gifts’ have to be recognised by
others, does it have anything to say about our personal inclination?
The answer is ‘yes — but not
much’! in 1 Corinthians 14:1 we read: ‘Pursue love and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy’ — the context being that one of these gifts is teaching. And in 1
Timothy 3:1, ‘The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.’
implication of these references is that individuals may expect to have an inner conviction, prompted by the Holy Spirit, that ordained ministry is the right avenue to pursue — but that on its own
such a conviction does not yet amount to a calling. As Article 23 says: ‘It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of publick preaching, or ministering the Sacraments in the
Congregation, before he be lawfully called, and sent to execute the same.’
This morning we are assured of our destination with Christ
Article 22 —
Posted by Tim Patrick, 24
Tim Patrick considers a
“vain thing, fondly invented” which the 39 Articles say is “repugnant to the word of God.”
XXII — OF
The Romish Doctrine
concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping, and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of
Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.
During their reformation,
the leading English divines necessarily focussed a considerable effort on demonstrating the wrongness of several core beliefs of the late medieval Roman Catholic Church. Foremost among these were
beliefs about salvation, authority in the church, and the afterlife — with the latter being the focus of Article 22.
The “Romish Doctrine” of the
afterlife was quite complex and made up of a number of interrelated parts. First and perhaps foremost was Purgatory, the supposed antechamber of hell where the saved-but-not-yet-purified members of
the church went upon their death in order to be ‘purged’ of the guilt or stain of their sin — a process that was torturously painful and which could last thousands upon thousands of years.
Second was Pardons, which
were the remissions of that purgatorial pain as granted by the Catholic Church to those who either made certain financial donations (i.e. paid for them), or who completed various prescribed rituals
to demonstrate their piety and submission.
Finally, Worshipping and
Adoration of Images and Relics, and Invocation of Saints were all expressions of the cult of the saints, which was a pervasive part of late medieval English Catholicism. This ‘cult’ was not an
underground, deviant religious sub-group, like the cults of today, but rather a broad and general obsession with those departed believers who were believed to have avoided purgatory and instead been
translated directly into heaven as reward for the great quality and purity of their mortal lives. These ‘saints’ were regularly idolised by the worship of their memory, and by the reverence shown to
their pictures and relics which were believed to either contain, or channel, special grace. In some cases, the saints were even directly called upon to answer prayers.
Of course, all of this was
completely unacceptable to the Protestant Reformers. Not only did they realise that these beliefs had facilitated the exercise of an enormous amount of power and control by the Roman Catholic Church
over the peoples of Christendom, they also recognised that the entire Roman view of the afterlife was simply a “fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather
repugnant to the Word of God.”
It was because of this that
the Roman view of the afterlife was challenged from the very earliest days of the Reformation. Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses of 1517 were mostly concerned with abuses of the Catholic system of pardons.
It is worth noting that England’s first significant movement away from the old Roman doctrine of purgatory came through its earliest Articles of Religion: the Ten Articles of 1536. Those Articles
said of those who had died, ’forasmuch as the place where they be, the name thereof, and kind of pains there, also be to us uncertain by Scripture’ and that it is only God ‘to whom is known their
estate and condition.’ This is a remarkable declaration given that fifteen years earlier, Henry VIII had included a case for purgatory as the opening to his Defence of the Seven Sacraments, the work
that won him the title Defender of the Faith from Pope Leo X.
Contrary to the views of the
Roman Catholic Church, the Bible teaches that no one has any further penalty or punishment to pay for their sin once they accept the merits of Christ’s death. Isaiah 53:4–6 makes plain that the
Lord’s servant has taken our punishment and made us whole; has healed us by his bruises. There is no sense in Scripture that Jesus’ death was only a part-payment for sin, with the rest to be made up
by the extreme suffering of his people between their own deaths and resurrection. Instead, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:6–8 and Philippians 1:21–23 that if he were to die, that would only send him
to a far better place – home with the Lord – which is exactly where we find the martyred believers in Revelation 6:9–11. And in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 he teaches that this is where believers remain
waiting until they return with Jesus at his second coming.
This view of the
intermediate state was standard amongst the mainstream Reformers and it is strongly argued for by Calvin in Psychopannychia, his first theological work. It was also, in fact, quite explicit in
Article 40 of the Forty-Two Articles of 1553, of which the Thirty-Nine Articles are a revision. Article 40 was directed against Soul Sleep and Conditionalism, which are the two forms of Christian
Mortalism. The former is what Calvin wrote against in his above-mentioned work, and is the belief that the soul is unconscious between death and resurrection. The latter is the view that the soul
ceases to exist from death until it is made new again with the body. Once these two ideas are excluded along with purgatory, the only remaining possibility for believers is the biblical teaching of a
conscious intermediate state between death and resurrection that is enjoyed in the very presence of Christ.
could be easy to push consideration of the intermediate state aside, as though it were a largely irrelevant theological obscurity, just a little reflection reveals how pastorally important truths
concerning the afterlife are. When a dearly loved Christian sister or brother faces death or dies, we do not need to be uninformed regarding their fate. Instead, we can be deeply comforted with the
great truths that they are now with Jesus, the object of all their deepest hopes and longings, and that they are safe and secure until the day of his return to earth when they will be present as he
consummates his kingdom. We can most certainly be assured that they are not suffering the pains of purgatory which, in the last analysis, is only a cruel imaginary place. And in addition to our own
comfort, being rid of Roman Catholic beliefs about the afterlife frees us to direct all our praise and petition away from anyone and anything less than Christ himself — who is our only true and sure
hope and intercessor.
Today we are reminded whilst getting together to discuss doctrine and church law is good - we must remember that God's word has more authority than any council.
Article 21 —
Of the Authority of General Councils
Posted by Mark Earngey, 23
Mark Earngey explores the
teaching of the 39 Articles on the supremacy of scripture over the fallible judgments of church councils.
XXI — OF THE AUTHORITY OF
General Councils may not be
gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes. And when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of
God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be
declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.
How is the 21st Article of
Religion relevant to 21st century Anglicans? With its reference to the ‘commandment and will of princes’, this article may initially appear to some as something of a fossilised relic of the past, and
unable to provide any reasonable application to dispersed groups of Anglicans around the world. Indeed, The Episcopal Church of the United States of America (TEC) omitted this article in 1801 on the
basis that it was ‘partly of a local and civil nature’. This was, of course, a polite way of referring to the rejection of British rule following the American War of Independence!
Nevertheless, this article
was highly relevant when initially published as part of the 42 Articles (1553) and later the 39 Articles (1563). Pope Paul III had convoked the Council of Trent that ran from 1545 until 1563. This
was highly irregular since the Holy Roman Emperor was traditionally supposed to have initiated councils of this magnitude. He had been supportive but struggled to garner the support of the French,
who reluctantly attended and eventually refused to ratify the council’s conclusions. Since the purpose of the council had been to counter the Reformation, the few invitations to Protestants only
attracted a handful of Lutherans. Despite the irregular convocation and absence of Protestant and Eastern Christian communities, the council proclaimed itself a general and ecumenical council, and
anathematised those who held (and presently hold!) to reformed views of justification and the sacraments.
This was staggering stuff to
the Reformers. General councils were best understood as those so-called ecumenical councils of the early church. They were ecumenical in the sense of reaching the world, just as the famous census of
Augustus Caesar went out to the ‘whole world’ (oikoumene; Luke 2:1). They were ecumenical in the sense of rightly declaring Christian truth, just as the council of Jerusalem did as recorded in Acts
15. Thus, the Reformatio Legum (1552) and the Act of Supremacy (1558) accorded great honour and dignity to the first four councils: Nicaea I (325), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus I (431), and
Chalcedon (451). Why then, did the homily ‘Against the Peril of Idolatry’ (1563) affirm two extra councils, Constantinople II (553) and Constantinople III (680-1)?
The clue to the answer lay
embedded in this article itself: the authority of the Scriptures over conciliar decisions. For, even the best of Christian councils were mere ‘assemblies of men’ whose sinful desires waged war
against the ‘spirit and word of God.’ (Romans 8:5-13; cf., Article 9). Thus, the canons of councils are fallible and subject to error, whereas the sentences and sense of Scripture remain infallible
and free of error. To argue otherwise, was to threaten the very necessity of the Scriptures according to Bishop John Ponet (1514-1556):
‘If the church cannot err,
and is a sufficient witness of the truth from time to time: then we have no need of the word written, but that we may be without: for all knowledge and ordering of doctrine remains in the church.’
(British Library, Add MS 89067, sig. f.47r.)
This is the reason for the
selective approach to early ecumenical councils among early Anglicans. It also explains why Anglicans have tended to choose liberally from the canons of later ‘so-called’ ecumenical councils: the
compulsory clerical celibacy of Lateran I (1123) was rejected, whereas the filioque doctrine of the council of Florence (1439) was retained. The Reformation’s wonderful rediscovery of the supremacy
of the Holy Scriptures returned both the authority of the Church (Article 20) and the authority of General Councils (Article 21) to their proper places. Indeed, it was only because of the authority
of Scripture that councils were granted their authority. As John Ponet continued:
‘Christian people take not
away the authority of such old fathers as agree in Christ’s word, nor of such general councils as ground themselves thereupon but from such as forsake God’s Word, walking by paths of men’s traditions
Thus, we may draw five main
lines of application for today.
Firstly, we must face the
fact that there is a great difference between early modern and current conceptions of ‘princes’. The historical role of the ‘prince’ in ensuring the safe conduct and outcomes of church councils is
now more or less redundant. At any rate, the Scriptures are silent concerning whether councils should be called by the likes of Emperors, Kings, or Presidents. Even if such a princely calling did
obtain, it is unlikely that the various Christian communities would bend their authority structures to accommodate each other (e.g., the incompatibility of papal power with Eastern and Protestant
denominations). Although nothing is impossible for God, the probability of another General Council seems fairly low at the present time.
Second, notwithstanding the
above point, it is a good thing for Christian communities to gather ‘to speak the truth in love’ in councils and synods (Ephesians 4:15). We may not want to leave the intervals of our meetings as
long as the Eastern churches (whose recent Pan-Orthodox council was the first in 1000 years), and there may be critical issues of discipline that need to be addressed. But the assembling of
Christians for ecclesiastical and theological recalibration with Scripture is surely to be commended.
Third, the fallen reality
described of General Councils remains the same for all synods and councils, be they diocesan, provincial, national, or transnational. We ought to be wary of hastily declaring synodical or conciliar
decisions a ‘movement of the Spirit’, ‘the mind of the Spirit’, and so forth. It is only through careful and sustained reflection on the word of God that we may ‘test the spirits.’ (1 John 4:1). Thus
we should focus on the movement and the mind of the Scriptures.
Fourth, since Scriptures
ought to play the central role within the ecclesiastical and doctrinal decisions of synods and councils, then we must relativise all other sources of authority. Within certain debates (e.g., human
sexuality) it may be tempting to preference modern science, sociology, or sentiment. But these are no substitute for unchanging and unmovable Scriptures. The dynamic of debates should be infused with
the words of the Psalmist: ‘Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens’ (Psalm 119:80).
Finally, we need to truly
appreciate the necessity of the Scriptures. There are no creedal or canonical teachings that contain any saving truth found outside of the Scriptures. Indeed, the saving truths of conciliar creeds
and canons only derive their force from the Scriptures. We must be absolutely clear: the church is not ultimately built on councils and synods, but ‘on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.’ (Ephesians 2:19).
Article 21 thus contains both ancient and contemporary significance. It may be tempting to wonder what might have happened to The Episcopal Church if
it had retained this article and its emphasis on the authority of Scripture over conciliar decisions. However, it is more important to look at ourselves and ask: do we truly appreciate the remarkable
blessing of the Scriptures within God’s plan of salvation?
This morning we see that we are called to be a Church that
sits under the authority of God's word.
Article 20 —
Of the Authority of the Church
Posted by Mark Pickles, 22
Mark Pickles examines what
the 39 Articles say about the authority of the church in controversies.
XX — OF THE AUTHORITY OF THE
The Church hath power to
decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one
place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the
same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.
Article 20 is only a short
paragraph and yet it packs a powerful and highly relevant punch for today’s Church.
This article deals with the
perennially vital question of the Church’s authority. It articulates historic Anglicanism’s careful, clear, and nuanced wisdom on this subject. It demonstrates convincingly J.I. Packer’s comment
that, “The 39 Articles seem not only to catch the substance and spirit of biblical Christianity superbly well but also provide as apt a model of the way to confess the faith in a divided Christendom
as the world has yet seen.”
Firstly, the Article gives
an appropriate weight to tradition and the freedom of the Church. The Church has the right to develop culturally appropriate forms of worship. The Article allows that the Church as a body can make
decisions and judgments in matters of controversy and disagreement. Scripture is ‘sufficient’ but not ‘exhaustive’.
However, secondly and most
importantly, Article 20 makes it crystal clear that Anglicanism affirms the supreme authority of Scripture. “It is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word
written….it ought to not decree any thing against the same”. The Church sits under the authority of Scripture, neither above it nor equal to it.
Thirdly, the Article
understands the ‘unity of Scripture’ and that it does not contradict itself, therefore we must not interpret or expound any part of Scripture in a way that contradicts other parts of Scripture.
Article 7 is particularly relevant here, because Anglicanism recognises the progressive nature of God’s unfolding plan of salvation. Scripture’s own internal authority explains why it is that the
ceremonial laws and civil regulations given in the Old Testament are no longer binding but the moral law is. So for example in Mark 7:19, Mark explains that Jesus declared all foods clean, Scripture
itself giving authority for such a change.
Fourthly, the Article
implicitly recognises the importance of ‘Systematic Theology’. The only way in which we can avoid expounding one part of Scripture in a way that contradicts another, is if we have an understanding of
Fifthly, consider the
Church’s relationship to Scripture here. The Church is a ‘witness’ and a ‘keeper’ of Scripture. As a witness it testifies to the truth that the Bible is God’s word proclaiming the gospel of
salvation. And as a keeper it is called (as a General Synod paper on the subject put it) to “keep the biblical canon whole and entire and pass it on down the generations.” The Church does not have
authority over Scripture but is to bear witness to Scripture’s authority.
This Article guards against
i. Detracting from
Scripture. To ordain anything contrary to God’s word is to ignore and reject its authoritative teaching.
ii. Adding to Scripture. The
‘sufficiency of Scripture’ means that the Church must not add to the biblical gospel anything as a requirement for salvation.
And so finally, we must note
the implications of this:
• If all of Scripture
is authoritative, we cannot, for example, disregard the teaching of the apostle Paul if the same commands are not found on the lips of Jesus. Nor can we regard them as less significant.
Every debate, discussion and decision made in the local church, deanery, diocese, or General Synod ought to be primarily concerned to discern and correctly interpret the teaching of Scripture
on any particular issue and to be governed by that
This morning we see that the church is not perfect and fallible - not because Jesus had failed
(His promises about the church have held true) it is because it is led by humans, who are sinners (like me). But it is important that we look to God's word and continue to pray for His guidance in
the way we conduct ourselves as a church.
Article 19 — Of the Church
Posted by Andrew Cinnamond, 21 Mar 2017
Andrew Cinnamond unpacks the Anglican doctrine of the church, according to the 39 Articles.
XIX — OF THE CHURCH
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered
according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome hath
erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.
To many Christians this article may seem superfluous. After all, ‘church’ is the place where we go for hymns, sermons, Communion, and the occasional
wedding or funeral. Right? The Reformers knew that the outworking of their theology, based squarely on the sufficiency and authority of the Scriptures, was a direct challenge to Rome and the papacy.
It was therefore essential to say what constituted a true church and what did not. Article 19 is similar to that of Article 7 of the Augsburg Confession of 1530 and reflects a shared Protestant
consensus that Rome’s teaching on the Church needed to be reformed.
A FAITHFUL PEOPLE
The article assumes that the Church is to be a visible company of believers in Jesus Christ. This is the whole tenor of the New Testament: Offences
should be told to the church (Matthew 18:17); the Church is like a light that cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14); many were added to the number of believers by the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:47). This
is all inexplicable unless it refers to a visible society of Christians.
Article 26 explicitly states that, as in the parable of the wheat and the tares, in the visible church ‘the evil are ever mingled with the good’.
Cranmer was well aware of this visible/invisible Church distinction, as is evident in the Thirteen Articles (1538), where we read that ‘true believers, who really believe in Christ the Head’ make up
the invisible Church, and the visible Church comprises ‘all who are baptised in Christ, who have not openly denied him nor been lawfully and by his Word excommunicated’.
Cranmer was probably thinking of ‘congregation’ as more than just a single group of local believers, but as a larger, regional or even national body.
This larger meaning is also suggested by the later mention of the ancient patriarchates (the Church of Jerusalem, the Church of Alexandria etc). The biblical doctrine of the Church is a corrective
against an individualism which focuses narrowly on personal wishes and the end goal of self-satisfaction. The New Testament imagery of a body and building (1 Corinthians 12:12-31; Ephesians 1:22-23,
2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-10) emphasises this corporate dimension.
‘Faithful’ has here to be seen as all those who profess and call themselves Christians. As Gerald Bray puts it, ‘We are not dealing here with a club
full of dedicated supporters, but with a fellowship of those who share the same fundamental beliefs’. In the Church of England we are painfully aware that this is not always so. We must insist that
right beliefs are placed before any fixation with buildings or any sort of institutional loyalty or unity.
MARKS OF THE TRUE CHURCH
The Reformers were strong advocates for proper theological training for legally authorised ministers (Article 23), so they would actually know what the
pure word of God is, and could also preach that message. Non-preaching ‘dumb’ ministers were a contradiction in terms. Today, we should consider carefully the difference between a five minute homily
and consistent expositional preaching as means to spiritually nourish a congregation of God’s people. Is preaching and Bible study a priority, or just an optional extra which people tolerate, but do
The two dominical sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper (Article 25) also have to be administered in a way which is both loyal to the Scriptures
and avoids error. The Reformers therefore fought against abuses: private communion denied the corporate fellowship of Christ’s Church and encouraged superstition; denying the laity the cup was
against the Lord’s command; indiscriminate baptism of infants downplayed the importance of personal faith and suggested automatic salvation on being baptised. If sacraments are not administered
properly in the church, or dispensed with altogether (e.g. Quakers, Salvation Army), then the nature of the gospel is obscured and people’s eternal salvation could be at stake.
This article should make us consider the advice we give, for example, to students seeking a church during term-time, or a retired couple moving to a
new area. Loyalty to a local parish church, social activities or style of music can never replace a proper use of word and sacrament as God’s appointed means of grace.
These key characteristics or ‘marks’ of the visible church also have a polemical function in excluding the necessity of accepting the authority of the
Bishop of Rome. The Church of England, displaying these marks, must therefore be seen to be part of the true Church, despite rejecting papal authority under Henry VIII in 1534 and again under
Elizabeth I in 1559. Article 19 needs to be understood in this anti-Roman way, although the definition does not make this intention explicit.
It should be noted in passing that many Protestants added a third ‘mark’ of the true Church, ecclesiastical discipline. Some see this as included in
the sacraments being ‘duly ministered’, with the necessary requirements of due examination, excommunication etc. In addition to the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), other Anglican formularies
include ecclesiastical discipline as a mark, including the Homily for Whitsunday (1563), and Alexander Nowell’s Catechism (1570). Nowell makes the distinction between word and sacrament as ‘the chief
and necessary marks of the church’ and discipline as a mark of a ‘well ordered’ church.
NO CHURCH IS PERFECT
a. Every church can err
The Reformers insisted that Rome had indeed erred, although it should be remembered that papal infallibility was not officially established until the
nineteenth century. The Papacy insisted that Rome had been preserved from error throughout history, in contrast to both the Eastern churches and the Protestants.
The purpose of Article 19 is illuminated when one examines the Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum (1552) the abortive attempt at reforming Canon Law in
the English Church. It talks of ‘the insanity of those who think that the Roman church was founded on a rock of such a kind that it has neither erred nor can err’. The article is therefore very
similar in its intention ‘to provide a definition of the Church that would refute the arguments of those who maintained that the visible Church had to be under the authority of the Church of Rome’
The Article towards its close mentions the three historic patriarchates of the Eastern Church, ‘Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch’, powerful churches,
which, though founded by apostles, had still fallen into error. The actual errors are not spelt out, but have generally been taken as doctrinal errors regarding Christology. Their examples should
serve as a warning that no church, including Rome, is perfect. We must never presume that sound teaching will be either popular or inevitably preserved, especially under such intense pressure today
of liberal teaching from within and an aggressively secular culture from without.
b. A necessary Reformation
In this 500th anniversary of the Reformation we should not be embarrassed to agree with the Reformers in their rejection of the errors that had crept
into the medieval Church. The Church of England is a Protestant church, not some sort of via media (middle way) between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Article 19 is a useful reminder that the
laudable quest for Church unity should never take precedence over true doctrine.
Although the Reformers held Rome to be in error, Rome was still
generally considered to be part of the true Church - the Article does, after all, refer to ‘the Church of Rome’. Richard Hooker, in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (III.i.10), reacts strongly
against the Puritan position of totally rejecting Rome: ‘we dare not communicate concerning sundry her gross and grievous abominations, yet touching those main parts of Christian truth wherein they
consistently still persist, we gladly acknowledge them to be of the family of Jesus Christ’.
This morning we are reminded there is only one way.
Article 18 —
Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ
Posted by Rohintan Mody, 20
Rohintan Mody became a
Christian out of a Zoroastrian background. But did he have to convert to be saved?
XVIII — OF OBTAINING ETERNAL
SALVATION ONLY BY THE NAME OF CHRIST
They also are to be had
accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For holy
Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.
There is no more important
question in our day and in the church than that of other religions. The question goes something like this: “Since there are so many different religions in the world aren’t there many different ways
to God? I know that those of other religions are very sincere in their beliefs, and they are also very good people, so, surely all those who live sincere lives will be led to God?” People say that
there are many paths up the one mountain. Indeed, many believe that the most offensive and nonsensical thing that anyone can say is that there is only one way to God. All spiritual truth, we are
told, is plural and relative.
Yet, we know that to say
that all that matters is sincerity is simply not true in other areas of life. It really does matter that the pilot of your plane knows how to fly a plane and the way to its destination. In this case,
sincerity is just not enough. After all, when we consider the identity of God in different religions, we see that religions contradict one another. Christians believe that God is one but Trinity,
Islam believes that God is one, but definitely not Trinity, Hinduism believe that God is many, and others, including Buddhists believe that God does not exist as a personal being. Many in our culture
believe in a divine ‘force’, but not much more. So, which one is right?
It is here that Article 18
is so very helpful and relevant, even more so that in the 16th Century, when the only non-Christian religions people generally knew about were Judaism and Islam, and the only sects were some odd
anti-Trinitarians. The Article also stresses that it is Christ alone who saves, not, as in the Roman Catholic church, that you can add in the Virgin Mary somehow to Christ’s work as mediator and
redeemer. So, let’s have a look at the Article in detail:
Article 18 points out that
we cannot be saved either by the diligent sincerity of the beliefs “we professeth” or our personal “sect” or religion. Indeed we are “accursed” if we believe such things. Religions cannot save us nor
can the sense human beings have by looking at the light of nature or conscience in our hearts that there is a God. Article 18 is in agreement with the Bible. Paul speaks in Romans 1:18-23 about the
human problem to which the gospel is the solution. He says that even though God clearly revealed himself to us in creation, people have rejected this knowledge him. And so “they are without excuse.”
Further, we have exchanged the true God for idols (that is, religion, our own ideas about God) and “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.” And so, Paul says, we are all under the “wrath
So how can we have saving
knowledge of God?
2. THE TRUTH
Article 18 explains that the
only way we can be saved is the “Name of Jesus Christ.” What the Article means is that you have to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Why does the Article assert something so offensive to our
society? Because the Bible says so.
First, in the prophet
Isaiah, God says that “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (Isaiah 45:5). Notice here that the God of the Bible is the true God, and also that other “gods” (which the
Bible calls “idols”) are not the true God.
Secondly, Jesus, in his
farewell teaching to his disciples, the night before the cross, in John 14:6, echoes Isaiah and reveals to us the way to God and heaven. He says: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one
comes to the Father except through me.” As God come to earth, Jesus has the right to tell us the way to heaven.
It is very important to see
what Jesus says: He is the definite and singular “Way” to God (not “a way”). He is the absolute “Truth” about God and from God (not “a truth about God”), and he is the true “Life” of God and the
giver of eternal life (not “a nice way to live”).
Crucially, Jesus also goes
onto the negative: “no one comes to the Father except through me.” That is, the only way for human beings to know God as our Father in heavenly life is through faith and knowledge in Jesus Christ as
God and Saviour (John 20:30-31).
Now, I was not brought up in
a Christian family. I was an Indian Zoroastrian. I believed in many ways to God. But then some Christian friends told me that I was going to hell unless I had faith in Jesus, because he is the only
Way. I was very offended by that message, but I read the message of John 14:6. I knew I had to either accept this Jesus or reject him. But I knew that Jesus had risen from the dead and so I said,
like Thomas, to this risen Lord Jesus “My Lord and my God” (John 20:29).
Article 18 also points us to
Acts 4:12, to which it alludes: “For Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the name of Jesus Christ whereby men must be saved.” In Acts 4, Peter preaches to the Jewish leaders and says in verse
12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Here Peter asserts that there is no other saviour except Jesus Christ.
Why? Because only Jesus saves, since only Jesus died for our sins.
Secondly, Peter tells us
that God (that is what Peter means by “heaven”) has appointed and named his Son, Jesus, as the only one with the authority and power to save and rescue sinful human beings.
Lastly, notice that the name
of Jesus is, according to God’s divine decree, the name “by which we must be saved.” There can be no human option here like, “I will choose to be saved in my own way or by my own god or religion.”
Rather Peter says, “no, God has decreed and fixed that we must be saved only through faith in Christ.”
conclude, the Article rightly says that we can only be saved by faith in Christ alone, and not by sincerity, religion, or nature. It is a breath-taking statement to make. It is a counter-cultural
truth to proclaim. But it also means that we can have assurance that we have Christ and are saved, and that we can tell people of other faiths (like me before conversion) that there is only one Way
to be saved, because Jesus Christ is the unique and exclusive Saviour.
Due to our family situation, I didn't post on Saturday. However, in God's goodness, today's article complements what David preached on Sunday.
Article 17 —
Of Predestination and Election
Posted by Paul Darlington,
18 Mar 2017
Paul Darlington takes us
through the longest of the 39 Articles, on the tricky subject of predestination. What does the Church of England believe about that?
XVII — OF PREDESTINATION AND
Predestination to Life is
the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath
chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called
according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his
only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.
As the godly consideration
of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the
works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be
enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the
sentence of God’s Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than
Furthermore, we must receive
God’s promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of
Is God for you or against
you? And if he is for you, to what extent is he for you?
On the other hand, would you
like to be more confident in your faith? And more loving towards God?
Article 17 is the longest
article by a considerable margin. Careful explanation was clearly necessary. But the doctrine was nothing new. Augustine of Hippo had taught the biblical doctrine over 1,000 years before our Article
Despite its length, it is
just four sentences.
The first sentence is a
straightforward, uncompromising, and positive statement of the doctrine: God has chosen those who will be eternally saved. This choice predates everything and its effects last forever. In Christ, the
elect are saved forever from condemnation: chosen in him, redeemed in him, and certain to inherit in him (Ephesians 1:3-14). There is never any variation in this purpose of God. God has not told us
who the chosen are, but he unfailingly brings them to the place of honour.
The second sentence
describes how this purpose works out on the ground in history in the individual believer. The elect individual experiences the invitation of the gospel and accepts it, enjoys their new justified
status, and continues in Christ-like good works until they go to be with Christ forever. But the Article repeatedly makes clear that from start to finish at every step it is God who effects his
purpose in the chosen. He does so by the Spirit, through grace, freely, by his mercy. We certainly obey and walk, but we do so because of God’s powerful and unmerited work in us.
So as a Christian, is God
for you? Certainly! To what extent is God for you? Completely! It is impossible to imagine a gospel where God more completely plans, executes, and fulfils salvation for us.
Every Christian knows that
we are saved by God’s grace. Even the Church of Rome has never denied that God freely gives what is undeserved. But the Article sets forth the only theological system which expresses salvation by
God’s grace alone. Deciding to trust and follow Christ is the best decision anyone can make. But I did not so decide because I was clever, or more discerning than my neighbour, or more able than some
others. I decided because in God’s kindness to me, in his determination to bring his elect in Christ to glory, he caused me to. God is so for us, that he ensures not even we, with all our corruption,
can separate ourselves from his love in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:28-39).
And so it is plain why all
the glory belongs to God. The true gospel of grace alone can only result in glory to the God alone who gives that grace. We should be moved to praise God for his immeasurable generosity to us in
Christ: chosen in him, redeemed in him and certain to inherit in him. And we should also find the greatest comfort when we consider this doctrine.
And so the Article naturally
turns to its third sentence, pointing us to how unspeakably comforting this doctrine is to the believer. But in expounding the healthy use of this doctrine, we are also warned about its destructive
If the preceding paragraphs
are worth anything, then you, the believer, should be growing in assurance that you are truly saved and secure in Christ forever. We are not still believing because we are so good at holding onto
God, but because God is so good at holding on to us. He is unfailing in fulfilling his purpose in Christ for us.
In life, I am always more
likely to trust someone who I know is genuinely on my side. Proper appreciation of just how much God is for us in Christ should make us trust him more (and more readily) than anyone or anything else.
Similarly, I am always more likely to love someone who has been good to me for no reason other than their love for me. In love he predestined us for redemption and glory. How this should lift our
affections to him!
So would you like to be more
confident in your faith? And more loving towards God? Then think on and pray through this doctrine.
There is a warning though.
As we teach biblical doctrine, we must apply biblical doctrine as the Bible does. The Bible only applies the doctrine of election and predestination to encourage God’s already believing people. The
doctrine of election is not the gospel of grace alone that is to be preached to all the world. It defends that gospel from ideas of human merit, and impresses upon the believer the absolute security
we enjoy in the gospel. ‘Are you chosen in Christ?’ is a constructive question for the believer, but an uncaring opening question in evangelism.
Of course, it is an
encouragement to keep preaching the gospel of grace. Christians often get this the wrong way round, but as a preacher myself, if people’s salvation depended on them or me, I would have given up a
long time ago. But it is God who effectually calls out and saves his people.
In its final sentence the
Article calls for repentance and faith. It humbles the objector to this doctrine and keeps us away from false assurance. Every elect person will, in due time, repent and believe. There is no evidence
of any saving work of God in someone without repentance and faith, whatever they might claim.
So if you
are worried about your election, repent and believe in Jesus Christ. If you are confident of your election, repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Then we will praise and love him in eternal
Whilst this is not an encouragement to sin, it is an encouragement for those of us who continue to struggle with sin.
Article 16 —
Of Sin after Baptism
Posted by Clare Hendry, 17
Clare Hendry explores the
pastoral realities of sin in the life of a Christian, as part of our “40 Days in the 39 Articles.”
XVI — OF SIN AFTER
Not every deadly sin
willingly committed after Baptism is sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable. Wherefore the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after Baptism. After we have received
the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given, and fall into sin, and by the grace of God we may arise again, and amend our lives. And therefore they are to be condemned, which say, they can no more
sin as long as they live here, or deny the place of forgiveness to such as truly repent.
Recently, I was helping with
our church holiday club over half-term. On one of the days, following the main teaching slot, I was chatting in my group with two eight year old boys. We were talking about sin and the need for Jesus
to save us. In trying to help them understand the teaching I asked them ‘Do you think you could get through the whole day without sinning, without doing anything wrong?’ One clearly thought he
could and explained how! It took a little time and some challenging questions for him to begin to think that maybe he couldn’t quite make it through a whole day sinless, even if he tried very
Well he was not alone in
thinking he could be perfect. And over the centuries people have wrongly taught that you can be perfect this side of heaven. I guess most of us know that our experience of life after conversion does
not reflect that.
Such a teaching can raise
all kinds of difficulties pastorally as well as being unbiblical! I have come across those who struggle with assurance about whether they are truly saved. How can I really be a Christian if I keep on
sinning? Some have done things which they think puts them beyond the reach of God, that they can’t be forgiven. Surely if the Holy Spirit now dwells in me I shouldn’t sin, so perhaps he doesn’t. Such
thoughts are not unique to the twenty first century.
One error rife at the
Reformation was the revival of the old idea from Novatian, in the third century, that serious sins committed after baptism (conversion) could not be forgiven. But it was also taught by some that it
was impossible for the regenerate to sin. So apart from the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit, is there any sin so serious that can put someone beyond forgiveness? Slightly different language
from what we use today but the same issues we face.
The 39 Articles continue to
speak into a fallen world, dealing with such false teaching and helping point us back to biblical teaching and the amazing grace of God. So how does Article 16 speak into the world today?
It can be helpful in the
pastoral situations we have already mentioned. Article 16 helps point to the reality that we will sin after we have come to faith, but those sins will not put us beyond God’s forgiveness. As we look
back, we can see how God has changed and is changing us through his Holy Spirit. No, we won’t reach perfection this side of heaven, but we shouldn’t lose heart either as we seem to struggle with some
repeating sin, because we know that God is at work. ‘And we who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from
the Lord, who is the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Talking about sin is not the
best topic for dinner party conversation. Surely if you must talk about religion, people say, then talk about how loving God is! People don’t want to talk about sin. But aren’t we short-changing
people if we don’t talk about sin? If we don’t understand the role of sin in our lives, then we can’t fully understand that amazing love God has for us in sending Jesus to die in our place. The fact
that we can do nothing to sort out sin. That even when we come to faith and sin over and over again, we can come in repentance to God and he forgives us time and time again. And how through the work
of the Holy Spirit he is changing us, so that we might one day be presented to Christ “as a radiant church, without stain, or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians
This group of articles
(Articles 12-16) are actually very encouraging. They are realistic and help us see where we start from – the human condition. And as we understand our sin and see our need for rescue, so we
appreciate even more deeply the grace and goodness of God in adopting us into his family and continuing to work in our lives.
We are works in progress. So
yes, we do sin even though we have been made righteous through Christ’s blood. But we have this certain hope that one day when we stand before God he will see us perfect. All possible because of what
God has done, not something we have earned which therefore could be lost. What an amazing truth!
time today to thank God that he has rescued us from the power of sin and is, by his Holy Spirit changing us to be more Christ-like, so that one day we can stand before him holy and
In Christ alone!
Article 15 —
Of Christ alone without Sin
Posted by Ben Thompson, 16
Ben Thompson takes a look at
what the 39 Articles say about the possibility of being perfect.
XV — OF CHRIST ALONE WITHOUT
Christ in the truth of our
nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which he was clearly void, both in his flesh, and in his spirit. He came to be the Lamb without spot, who, by sacrifice of himself
once made, should take away the sins of the world, and sin, as Saint John saith, was not in him. But all we the rest, although baptized, and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things; and if we
say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
The Apostle John wrote that
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). We can’t be confident that we will deceive anyone else. While they may not tell us to our face, most people
who spend time with us would easily list some of the particular sins which we struggle with (or perhaps, more tellingly, don’t struggle with). But we can deceive ourselves, and that is the pastoral
brilliance of this Article’s inclusion in our formularies.
Some might think Article 15
is superfluous: the perfection of Christ has been implied, at least, in Article 2 and Article 9 has told us that original sin continues to infect the regenerate believer. And yet, as the apostle John
tells us, we find it all too easy to deceive ourselves about our ongoing fallen nature. Sin, in its very nature, is blinding, so we don’t detect its presence. Pride whispers to us, and misdirects us,
so we don’t notice its residence in our hearts. We see part of Cranmer’s theological and pastoral genius, therefore, in his determination in this Article to banish ‘perfectionism’ from the pews of
which teaches that the Christian can achieve a level of sinless maturity in this life, has kept raising its ugly head. John’s first letter implies it was present in the early church; at the time of
the Reformation, it is likely that Cranmer was responding to a perception that certain Anabaptists were claiming sinless perfection (though this was, perhaps, a misunderstanding of their right call
for disciples to strive for sinlessness). John Wesley, in the eighteenth century, famously spoke of entire sanctification, though he never claimed it for himself. More recently, certain movements
have taught a second-blessing experience or an act of dedication which would achieve sinlessness.
These false teachings do
have some elements which are to be commended: they often begin by taking seriously the call of Jesus to ‘be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ (Matthew 5:48). They frequently grasp some
aspects of the ‘inaugurated eschatology’ of the gospel, whereby Jesus, through his death and resurrection has dragged into the present some of the realities of the future age (or rather he has taken
us, in union with him, into that future age). Thus, Christians are now saints, truly sanctified to God (1 Corinthians 6:11).
However, these teachings
stumble because, while the believer is truly indwelt by the Spirit, they are simultaneously indwelt by sin (Romans 7:20). It is perhaps no surprise that ‘Perfectionism Movements’ tend to be
short-lived. Their Achilles’ heel is that while they may succeed in deceiving themselves for a time, most often by downgrading or limiting their definition of sin, the reality of ongoing sin is
painfully plain to see.
A full-orbed theological
perfectionism is perhaps not a current danger for the Church. However, it may be that we are living in an age with a functional, or assumed, perfectionism. What would be the signs of such a
deception? If we find ourselves shocked to discover sin in the lives of a fellow believer; if we bear a grudge easily; or simply permit past failings to damage our relationships with brothers and
sisters: then, perhaps we would do well to take the teaching of Article 15 to heart.
Furthermore, the heart that
struggles to forgive another Christian is a heart that is unaware of its own need for forgiveness from God (Matthew 18:21-35), or, in other words, a heart which believes the lie of perfectionism.
Equally, the heart that will not accept loving rebuke from a fellow Christian has, most likely, swallowed the bait of perfectionist teaching. This last symptom seems to be endemic in our
Each of us has what has been
described as our own ‘internal, personal defence lawyer’, who instinctively leaps to defend us whenever we feel the mildest criticism. This may manifest itself in excuse-making, or bristling, or
deflection, or even self-pity. But the heart that has truly absorbed the life-giving truth of Article 15 will silence the defence lawyer and humbly welcome the loving challenge of a Christian brother
or sister. The wise believer will know they need this kind of fellowship, even, if possible, on a daily basis (Hebrews 3:12-14).
One further evidence of an
assumed perfectionism would be a lack of any discussion of sin, as part of a larger pastoral or theological position. In all the recent Church debates about human sexuality, one of the most troubling
elements was the notable absence of any consideration of the Fall, of indwelling sin, or of total depravity (whereby sin corrupts every aspect of us, including our desires and our minds). This
omission severely compromised the conclusions that were drawn.
The antidote to this assumed
perfectionism would be a healthy confessional life. It is odd that this liturgical element has disappeared from some of our churches. As well as making corporate confession, we would do well
regularly to confess our sins privately before God in concrete, meaningful ways, which are personal to me. We would do well to confess our sins to each other: to invite others to speak into our
lives; to ask them to pray for us; to make our prayer requests not (just) about my difficult children, but about my short temper; not (just) about my tight finances but about my instinctive envy and
self-pity; not (just) about my difficult boss but also about my proud, argumentative spirit.
However, the greatest
problem with perfectionist teaching is that it diminishes the Lord Jesus Christ. Article 15 captures the profound difference between his sinless perfection and our sinful state. There is a vast chasm
separating him from us. Perfectionism reduces this Grand Canyon to a small ditch; it leads the believer to make light of Jesus’ sinlessness: “it’s not such a big deal, for in the end, I can be
sinless too.” Whereas, the believer who has drunk deeply from the waters of Article 15 recognises the pervasive, putrid pull of sin and so is overwhelmed by the powerful purity of the
There can be a temptation to
assume that Jesus’ perfection was easy for him, but Scripture will not permit that (Hebrews 5:8). The Garden of Gethsemane reveals to us the terrible cost of sinlessness (Mark 14:36). The person who
gives up on a marathon after half a mile cannot claim to know the true pain of long distance running. In the same way, none of us truly know the pain of resisting sin. Jesus alone has endured to the
end and come out victorious. Article 15 leads us to marvel at the beauty of Jesus’ character, and increasingly so, for as we grow in the faith, so the Spirit reveals to us more of the gulf between
his perfection and our sinfulness.
Finally, perfectionism, does
not simply diminish the moral beauty of the Lord Jesus. It also diminishes the horror of the cross and the astonishing love of God revealed there. God made him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us. (2
Corinthians 5:21). If a bride should stop on the way into the church, take her pristine white wedding dress, and use it to wipe the vomit from the face of a homeless drug addict, we would be repulsed
— unless we happen to be the addict. What Christ has done for us is infinitely greater. In his moral perfection he has taken onto us all the filth of our sin, so that we might be sanctified, and, one
day in glory, be perfect, like him.
‘Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall
see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him, purifies himself, as he is pure’ (1 John 3:2-3).
This morning we are reminded of the simple truth of
salvation with a very old word - easy to understand, but is it easy to believe?
Article 14 —
Of Works of Supererogation
Posted by Trevor Johnston,
15 Mar 2017
Trevor Johnston helps us
understand one of the longest words in the 39 Articles, and why it is important.
XIV — OF WORKS OF
Voluntary Works besides,
over, and above, God’s Commandments, which they call Works of Supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety: for by them men do declare, that they do not only render unto God as much
as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake, than of bounden duty is required: whereas Christ saith plainly, When ye have done all that are commanded to you, say, We are unprofitable
500 years ago, being ‘good
enough’ for God troubled Martin Luther. He realised, before and after his recovered insight into the gospel of St Paul, that he wasn’t good enough. He felt the weight and burden of his sin (the
theological category, not the psychological category of a supposed neurosis). He knew that he was unworthy and unable to be accepted by a holy God. Before his conversion, his life was a series of
religious and moral attempts to get into, and stay in, God’s good books. His attempts to satisfy the demands of a holy and righteous God were ineffective, and he knew it. He had no peace.
Then his Bible fell open at
St Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he discovered that someone else was completely righteous, impeccable, entirely holy and worthy. Christ had paid it all. And all that Martin had to do — and how
he had desperately tried to ‘do’! — was to relate to that someone, only by faith, getting into God’s good books. This someone else was Jesus.
Luther had unearthed an idea
(or an article of faith) from the debris created by the centuries-old dominance of a religious system which ‘made you pay.’ To get into and stay in God’s good books, it was a religious meritocracy.
To remain there, it kept you paying, storing up God’s favour for the spiritually ‘rainy day’, for you or your friends. This payment was metaphorical by giving of yourself in devotion and
self-justification towards God. Moreover, most provocatively to Luther, it was literal payment for indulgences to appease the divine. Pulling the barely alive child of justification by ‘faith alone’
from the rubble, brought Luther life and peace.
Cranmer solidified this
insight in his articles, applying it fully. Faith in Christ both gets and keeps you saved, and it is this ‘being kept’ which is the concern of article 14. Is there anything we need to do to secure
our salvation in Christ? The article on Supererogation comes within a unit on Christ and his exclusive, atoning work on behalf of his people. The Articles are thematically organised, moving from God
to Christ, his salvation, people, and so on. They reflect Christian living. They deal with the realities of faith and they know the human heart. We need assurance.
This article is quirky to
21st century readers. The word, supererogation, which is the subject of the article is unfamiliar to us and the word has fallen into disuse. It simply means ‘above and beyond our duty’ religious
works. However, the concept is very familiar to us and the remedy it deploys remains relevant for daily Christian living. Having been saved by Christ’s grace through faith, we so continue to feel our
unworthiness that we revert back to a modification of Luther’s basic crisis: how do I remain good enough for God?
To answer that question we
turn back to ourselves, making attempts to achieve and retain God’s saving grace. Better and regular quiet times and more mystical religious experience. Increase spiritual activity — even praying for
24 hours, 7 days a week! We emphasise helping numerous old ladies across the road and the alleviation of all kinds of socio-economic problems. Each of these ‘above and beyond’ religious works are
certain to ensure God’s smile and favour.
Sadly, this isn’t too far
from the answer which the medieval church gave. It is a medieval spirituality painted with an evangelical veneer. To stay in God’s good books, prayers, self-denial, monastic orders, martyrdom, and an
assortment of recommended works were considered ‘spiritual brownie points’. They secured even more salvation, and accrued salvific interest on the bank balance of an individual’s salvation. Just in
case I (or a deceased family member) leak God’s grace, I compensate and do something to top up my righteousness for those moments when I feel failure or experience distance from God. I make
restitution for what I perceive to be lacking in God’s grace towards me and my devotion towards him.
But, isn’t this a classic
case of sinful human arrogance? Article 14 points this out, “works…cannot be taught without arrogance and impiety”. We may think (even preach) that salvation is all of God, but act (and believe) as
if it isn’t. All of salvation comes from Christ’s work on our behalf. Faith places us in Christ fully, firmly, finally and forever. There is no need to fear when our trust is in Christ alone. He is
sufficient and his forgiveness is unchanging.
is one of the few with direct quotations of Scripture. It cites Luke 17:10, “Christ saith plainly, ‘When ye have done all that are commanded to you, say, We are unprofitable servants.’” A few verses
before that, even mustard seed-sized faith, is fully effective. Calling on God in repentance and faith, with the feeblest and weakest of voices, brings salvation. The gospel is not only for
unconverted sinners. It is also for converted sinners. Simply trust in Jesus. He really has done it all. There is nothing more to be done or that can be done, either by him or his
Today's article might be a bit of a difficult read as we
look at others who do not yet believe. But if we believe that Jesus is the only way, it will help us to see the best thing we can do is believe this truth and to introduce others to Jesus the source
of our salvation. How can that be done when someone doesn't know him?
Article 13 —
Of Works before Justification
Posted by Henry Jansma, 14
Henry Jansma focuses on the
provocative teaching of Article 13 in our series of blogs during Lent on the 39 Articles.
XIII — OF WORKS BEFORE
Works done before the grace
of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors
say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.
Article 13 is one of the
three consecutive Articles that set out human works in their relation to salvation in Christ. Article 12 deals with the significance of good works of believing Christians. Article 13 condemns a way
of thinking of human status and capability before God. And Article 14 discusses “works of supererogation” (check back tomorrow to find out what they are!).
Of the three, Article 13 may
seem strange to us today. But it is, in fact, one of the top five most referenced articles of the Thirty-nine Articles. Article 13 is everywhere! You hear it when Frank Sinatra sings, My Way. You
read it in Charles Dickens’ short story A Christmas Carol, or watch it unfold in Frank Capra’s film It’s a Wonderful Life. You hear it referenced when a person confronted with the gospel choice says,
“But I am a good enough person, and God is a God of love. I am sure he will accept me.” It is referenced in the brief eulogies we’ve all heard at the crematorium. The vicar talks more of how good the
deceased person was, to trail off vaguely into how they are “in God’s love now.” Leaving the listener to make the connections of the “how” between the two. Conclusion: the gospel is about being good,
and that being good makes you fit for heaven.
To understand what Article
13 means for us we need to start with what it meant at the time it was written. Article 13 rejects a form of preparation for conversion. It was a concept of preparation that sprang from the
nominalist school of theologians (“as the School-authors say”). So let’s go back a bit.
The medieval nominalists
believed that God’s natural gifts of reason and conscience had not been destroyed by the Fall. Were there not countless examples of unbelievers who loved neighbour above the self? And what of
Scriptures like Luke 11:9, “If you seek me, you will find me,” or James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you”?
With such concerns in mind,
they reasoned that there was a prior step to salvation. They thought that if God rewards good works done in a state of infused grace, with eternal life as its just reward — could he not also reward
good works done in a state of nature with an infusion of grace? The nominalist answer was, “Yes.” The man or woman who does his or her best in a state of nature receives grace as a fitting reward (as
the Article says, they “deserve grace of congruity”).
Nominalists were convinced
that God meant for people to acquire grace first as a “semi-merit” within a state of nature by doing their best with their natural abilities. And if that person did their best with those abilities,
God would then grant them infused grace to earn salvation. This theology taught that people could initiate their salvation.
The Reformers rightly
rejected the nominalist notion of grace by semi-merit within a state of nature. They called nominalists the “new Pelagians.” They insisted that God’s word says humanity is totally unable to move
toward God, teaching that salvation is by his grace alone (Romans 3:21-26). They understood that humanity by its very nature was dead in its trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) and that all our
righteous deeds are like a polluted garment (Isaiah 64:6) before him.
As Article 13 asserts, even
the seemingly good works of those who have not yet come to a saving faith are actually accounted by God as “sin” and “unpleasant” (Romans 8:8 and Hebrews 11:6). There is nothing an unregenerate
person can do to make God smile! Yet it is unlikely that many ordinary Christians would accept this teaching at all, and some would find it very surprising or disturbing.
Yet Article 13 warns us that
“grace of congruity” turns the gospel on its head. It diminishes, if not destroys, the mercy and grace of God. Instead of turning us toward Christ and the blessings that are ours in him, we are
turned inward to ourselves. It underlines the default position of every fallen human heart.
Do you know what is the very
first mark of grace in your life? It is when you start to wonder if what the Bible says may be true. And if it is true, that it may have uncovered a deep need in you that at times you sense and at
times you hide. Rosaria Butterfield describes it in Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. When confronted by a friend who noticed that all her reading of the Bible was changing her, she said, “What
would you say if I told you that I’m beginning to believe that Jesus is real, is real and risen and loving and judging Lord, and that I am in big trouble?”
When God calls us into a
saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, he must startle us with godly fear, a fear that alerts us to our lack and our need of God’s goodness and grace (2 Corinthians 7:10). It dawns on us that
there is a gap between his holiness and our sinfulness that we cannot breach. The more I know of him and his holiness and I understand the depth of my sinfulness in the light of his holiness, the
awareness of my need drills down deeper and deeper until I cry out with conviction, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
God leads us
to himself through his word, not our merit. He draws our attention away from our striving to the joy and the grace that is to be found in Jesus Christ. As the realization of our need grows, the joy
in the finished work of Christ on the cross of Calvary grows still larger. The source of justifying faith is not on account of my merit, but on account of Christ, “Thanks be to God through Jesus
Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).
This morning we are
reminded that our good works are a response to grace rather than a requirement of grace.
Article 12 —
Of Good Works
Posted by Jane Tooher, 13
Jane Tooher unfolds the
teaching of the 39 Articles on the good works which are meant to follow when we become Christians.
XII — OF GOOD
Albeit that Good Works,
which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s Judgement; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do
spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.
We proceed in the Christian
life the same way that we began, in dependence upon the gospel word of God (1 Peter 1:23–25). God’s word is our foundation and it is God’s word that ensures the building built upon that foundation
(i.e. our lives and ministries) is strong and straight (Colossians 2:6–7). Throughout Scripture we hear the call to (i) listen to God’s word; and (ii) do God’s word (letting this word shape our
thinking, emotions and actions); and (iii) guard God’s word (Matthew 7:24–27; James 1:22; 1 Timothy 6:20). The second of these, ‘do God’s word’, is the subject of Article 12.
One of the charges levelled
at the Reformation was that its teaching about grace and justification left no motivation for good works. Martin Luther famously answered this charge by saying, ‘Our faith in Christ does not free us
from works but from false opinions concerning works, that is, from the foolish presumption that justification is acquired by works’ (The Freedom of a Christian, 1520). He later wrote, ‘O it is a
living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it
has already done them, and is constantly doing them’ (Preface to Romans, 1522).
Good works are the fruit of
faith. They cannot justify us before God. They flow out of our justification, a result of God’s Spirit working within us. As the Spirit brings God’s word to our hearts, it shapes our thinking,
emotions, and actions, leading to a life that is characterised by obedience and good works. These good works are a sign that we are no longer living for ourselves, but, rather, we are now living to
glorify God. This results in a life pleasing to him, as we love and serve others. Luther again: we ‘live in Christ through faith and in our neighbour through love’ (The Freedom of a
Through the centuries,
Christians have found it difficult to keep the cross central and dominant in our lives and thoughts. Setting aside a special time like Lent in order to refocus on the cross in the lead up to Easter,
has been helpful to many. When our focus is off the cross, the only other option is that our focus is more on ourselves.
Two particular dangers need
to be avoided. Firstly, we can fall into the trap of minimising grace and imagining that Jesus’ death was not enough to deal with our sin. We can deceive ourselves that his cross was not enough to
remove my particular guilt and shame. Or we can despair that someone else we know could ever be forgiven.
The other danger comes from
the opposite direction. We can minimise our sin, and imagine our good works can somehow contribute to our salvation. Here in particular, Article 12 comes to our aid. It reminds us that good works
flow from being justified. There is nothing inside us that is capable of choosing to do good. Even our best is not good enough. That is why we need God to work within us (Psalm 53; Romans
So Article 12 is a great
antidote to pride while at the same time an encouragement to godliness and good works, not as a payment or contribution to my salvation but as the fruits of faith. Doing good works does not save me.
I do good works because I am saved.
Article 12 also serves as a
warning. If we confess to being a Christian and yet have no good works, we are like a tree with no fruit. And a tree that bears no fruit, has ceased to be a tree. In fact, it has stopped growing. It
is no longer alive. It is dead (James 2:14-26).
So this Article is also an
enormous encouragement. My good works are the result of God working in me. Good works are a sign of life, a testimony that my relationship with God is real and makes a difference to my life. In
others, good works are the fruit by which they are known (Matthew 7:16, 20). It’s a great comfort to know God has planned the good works in which he wants me to walk because they then remind me why I
was created and the purpose for which I was redeemed (Ephesians 2:8-10). Our lives are not random and meaningless. At every point there is a good work for us to walk in.
At this Lenten time, we can
be encouraged by the word of God in which God addresses each one of us:
‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live
self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to
redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.’ (Titus 2:11–14)
Today we see that we do not need to do anything other than
to trust and follow the Lord Jesus for our salvation - for me, a comforting thought.
Article 11 —
Of the Justification of Man
Posted by Ash Carter, 11 Mar
Ash Carter unpacks the
teaching of the 39 Articles on the crucial doctrine of justification by faith alone.
XI — OF THE JUSTIFICATION OF
We are accounted righteous
before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and
very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.
All of the Protestant
churches, at the point where they split from Rome, produced doctrinal standards to explain why they were no longer part of a unified Western church. The 39 Articles arose out of a desire to explain
both the commitments of the Church of England, and the errors of Rome. After ten Articles on the nature of God, Scripture, and the predicament of man, Article 11 takes us to the heart of Reformation
doctrine. The same priority is seen in the homilies, where the Homily on Justification comes third.
For Cranmer, and the
Anglican Reformers this is a critical doctrine. Indeed, the homily states plainly, ‘this is the strong Rock and foundation of Christian Religion’, so much so that ‘whosoever denieth, is not to be
accounted for a Christian man’. This is a primary doctrine; to deny it is to not be a Christian at all. Yet the article is at pains to stress that it is a doctrine very full of comfort.
The Church of Rome taught
(e.g. Council of Trent, Session 6 Chapter 5) that the grace of God, earned by Jesus, is infused into the soul of the believer. The believer then co-operates with God in living a holy life and thus,
on the final day, the believer will be justified by God on the basis of the good works achieved in co-operation with grace. Rome taught, in other words, that the basis of justification is the life of
the believer, which will be good enough if grace has been received and the believer has worked hard enough. This doctrine is offensive to the gospel, for Paul says that all works have to be excluded
from justification ‘so that no one can boast’ (Ephesians 2:9). It robs Christ of the glory which is his. As the article says, “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord
and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not of our own works or deservings” (emphasis mine).
Article 11 directs us to the
Homily on Justification, where Cranmer makes clear in the first place that every man is guilty of sin before God, so that ‘every man of necessity is constrained to seek for another righteousness’.
God is perfect, and he demands perfect obedience from us. Since we cannot obey God, we are rightly under condemnation. Justification brings us into the courtroom of God, and we are guilty as charged.
But what we are incapable of doing, Christ did for us.
First, he came ‘to fulfil
the Law for us’. When we put our faith in Christ, we are brought into such a relationship with Christ that Martin Luther calls it a marriage. Christ’s righteous life becomes ours, and our sin becomes
his. We do not, therefore, come to stand before God, offering our imperfect lives to him and trusting that this will be good enough. Instead, we stand before God with the perfect life of Christ
credited to our account, so that God can justly say that we are righteous in his sight.
Secondly, Christ then, ‘by
the shedding of his most precious blood’ made ‘a sacrifice and satisfaction’. The guilt of sin needed to receive the punishment of death. Christ, standing in our place, took the full anger of God at
all our sin and paid the full penalty for sin. Cranmer therefore affirms Paul’s statement ‘No man is justified by works of the Law’ for it is “only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus
This doctrine preserves the
honour of Christ as the only Saviour, but it also magnifies God’s justice. If God accepted our incomplete obedience it would demonstrate that his standards are less than perfect, and so would undo
the very nature of God. But the work of Christ proves that God is both perfectly righteous, and full of mercy, as Romans 3:26 teaches. God is able today to declare righteous those who will stand
before his judgement seat clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
What, then, must the
Christian do? Cranmer is very careful at this point. On the one hand, it affirms that a truly justified person will not then be idle; rather, we will ‘render ourselves unto God wholly with all our
will, hearts, might and power, and serve him in all good deeds, obeying his commandments during our lives’. Yet, on the other hand, he will not allow us to think that our good works play any part in
our justification: ‘we must renounce the merit of all our said virtues’. Our deeds may indeed be good, but they are never good enough. Justification ‘is not a thing which we render unto him, but
which we receive of him’. Even faith is not a good work, but only the means by which we claim the promises of Christ.
How, then, us this doctrine
“very full of comfort”? It is in this: that the believer can have total assurance of salvation before God. The Roman Catholic, whose judgement is in the future, and whose case rests on their good
deeds, can never have assurance of salvation. Have I done enough good? What if I do something bad tomorrow that tips the scales against me? The committed Catholic will be full of anxiety, as indeed
Luther was before his conversion.
But we know
that justification is not by works, but purely by the merits of Christ. We do not look to our own deeds, but the perfect and completed work of Christ, imputed to our account. Our position is so
certain that the future judgement has been declared now — and in declaring it so, God has made it so: ‘You are my children’; we are new creations (2 Cor. 5:17-21). Yes, we will continue to sin. But
we confront our sinfulness, bring it to the cross, repent and walk away free men and women, justified by faith in Christ alone.
Today we are reminded of our merciful
Article 10 —
Posted by Tom Woolford, 10
Tom Woolford chooses to look
at Article 10 as part of our 40 Days in the 39 Articles.
X— OF FREE-WILL
The condition of Man after
the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and
acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.
Article 10 claims to be
about free will, but might more clearly be titled, ‘Of the bondage of the will.’ The Article does not stress the freedom and ability of the natural human will, but its slavery and inability: “the
condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot…”
The bondage and inability of
the natural human will was one of the earliest theological principles of the Protestant Reformation. In 1525, Martin Luther penned On the Bondage of the Will to rebut the humanist Catholic scholar
Desiderius Erasmus, whose On Free Will had been published a year earlier. The Latin title of our Article may be identical to Erasmus’ title, but its theology (rooted in Augustine’s teaching) is
identical to Luther’s!
Why was the bondage of the
will so central to Reformation theology? It is because it is part-and-parcel of the nature of God’s grace and our salvation.
The unreformed Roman church
did not consider itself Pelagian: it taught the absolute necessity of God’s grace for salvation. But in the theology of the dominant ‘Modern Way’ (via moderna) — which was officially sanctioned as
dogma at the Council of Trent — grace worked in a particular way. In short, a man or woman had to do their best to believe, seek, love, and obey God; if they did so, God would treat their paltry
efforts as if it were perfect righteousness. This was summed up in the medieval axiom, “God will not deny grace to the one who does their best” — or, colloquially, “Do your best: God does the
Fundamental to the via
moderna model was the principle that human beings had at least some natural ability within themselves to turn to God in penitence and faith — some innate capacity to do good works. In particular, the
doctrine demanded that the human will had to be sufficiently free and able to respond to the offer of God’s grace. The Council of Trent accordingly expressly anathematized those who taught that “the
free will of man is lost and extinguished.” On this matter, the post-Reformation Roman church has been remarkably consistent. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) is as emphatic as Trent was
that man’s nature is such that “he might of his own accord seek his Creator” (paragraph 1730).
Article 10’s explicit denial
of a man’s ability to “turn and prepare himself” for faith is thus a direct repudiation of a fundamental presupposition of the Roman doctrine, and a vital step in the evangelical understanding of the
gospel. It is the logical outworking of Article 9 (Of Original Sin) with respect to humanity’s natural standing before God, and the logical prerequisite for Article 11’s teaching on how believers are
justified by God in Christ — “by Faith only” with no space for “our own works or deservings.” Only with belief in Article 10’s account of our inveterate disinclination and utter inability in
ourselves to call upon God, can we have a gospel of salvation that is truly by grace alone.
Article 10, ostensibly about
human will, is thus in reality fundamentally about securing the sheer graciousness of divine grace in the economy of salvation. Given Article 10, I have nothing to boast in except Christ
WHAT IMPLICATIONS DOES
ARTICLE 10 HAVE FOR US TODAY?
Polemically, Article 10
reminds us of an enduring fundamental difference between us and Rome. In this 500th anniversary of the Reformation it is fashionable both to express regret about the division in the church, and to
claim that most of the differences were exaggerated and have now been overcome. Article 10 emphatically declares ‘Not so!’
Article 10 underwrites a
monergistic (from mono — ‘one,’ and ergo — ‘to work’) doctrine of justification. This contrasts it with a synergistic (‘syn’ — together; so ‘working together’) doctrine. It teaches that our state of
spiritual death — the utter inability of the bound human will — means that everything that goes into our coming to spiritual life has to belong to God. His is the whole initiative; his is the
decisive, effective will.
The Roman church still
baulks at Article 10, because it still teaches synergism — the cooperation of a man or woman with God for salvation. Admittedly, since Article 10 was written, Protestant versions of synergism have
arisen — even within the Anglican fold (Arminianism, Wesleyanism) — with the effect of obscuring what was once a clear dividing-line between Rome and the churches of the Reformation. But at root
there is still no compromise possible nor middle ground conceivable between monergism and synergism: either the work is God’s alone, or it is not. I am unapologetic for the doctrinal distance that
Article 10 continues to put between us and Rome.
Apologetically, Article 10
should make us careful about how we talk about ‘free will’ in our defence of the Christian faith. We can and should talk about free will — even if we are impeccable Calvinists! — as part of our
apologetic, provided we do so in a manner consonant with Articles 9 and 10. Why is there so much evil in our world? Men and women freely will it. For what are unbelievers judged and punished by a
just and holy God? For what they have freely willed and done. When we sin, we sin freely and willingly. No-one else forces us to choose evil — not the Devil, not even Adam; and above all, not God.
Our wills are by nature free, but free to will only as our nature directs: that is, to sin.
But ‘free will’ must not
feature in our answers to questions about faith and salvation. In answering the questions, ‘Why do you believe?’ or ‘Why are you saved?’, we must not reach within — to our ‘free will,’ our “natural
strength and good works” — to answer. Article 10 forbids it, because Scripture forbids it (Ephesians 2:1-10). We must reach entirely outside ourselves, to the merit of Christ and the grace of
Personally, Article 10
should instil in us the great gospel-wrought virtues of hope, humility, and gratitude:
Article 10 is not, despite
its bleak view of the human will, a counsel of despair but a counsel of hope. If in the gospel, life is promised to me — despite knowing that I am dead in my sins and transgressions — then that
promise cannot but offer real, unquenchable hope; especially to those who know more clearly than others the sinfulness of their hearts.
If it weren’t for Article
10, I could still find things to boast in — not least that I, unlike those deplorable unbelievers, have freely chosen to seek after God! Belief in the ability of human will freely to turn to God for
salvation, if it isn’t swallowed by the Charybdis of despair, will sooner or later be shipwrecked on the Scylla of pride.
What an amazing, generous God we have who loves those described in Article 10! He loves those who, left alone, would not love him. When I see what I am
like (Articles 9 and 10), I marvel at what God is like. And I know the only appropriate response is a life of humble thankfulness.
Today we explore the bad news so we can
contrast it against the good news.
Article 9 —
Of Original or Birth-sin
Posted by John Percival, 9
John Percival helps us think
through the meaning of original sin, in today’s instalment from the 39 Articles.
IX— OF ORIGINAL OR
Original Sin standeth not in
the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is ingendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far
gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth [concupiscat] always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world,
it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in the Greek, “Phronema Sarkos”, which some
do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh, is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are
baptized, yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.
Having laid down the
foundations of who God is and how we come to think rightly about him (through Scripture as interpreted by the creeds), we now arrive at the beginning of God’s work of salvation for humanity. Before
turning to the good news, we must hear the bad news, the black backdrop against which the jewel of the gospel can shine most brightly.
Article 9, “Of Original or
Birth Sin,” shows us just how bad we really are. Amongst the various technical terms is an utterly shocking analysis of human nature. Contemporary debates within the Church of England, as well as
society more widely, desperately need to hear this biblical anthropology.
First, let us see the Source
of Original Sin. It’s not just about our environment (copying the bad examples around us, tracing their way back to Adam) affecting a neutral human nature. The fifth century bishop, Augustine,
standing in a long line of African leaders who have had to speak out against British false-teaching, corrected Pelagius on just this point. Drawing on texts such as Psalm 51:5 (“Surely I was sinful
at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me”), he argued that our very nature is corrupted. Every single person born in Adam’s race is “inclined to evil.”
Yes, we are made in God’s
image (Genesis 1:26–27), but our nature is now positively faulty at the deepest level as a result of the fall. This means that just because we desire something, or find pleasure in something, does
not make it good. We are not as we should be. Our ‘natural’ desires must be evaluated in light of God’s word.
Secondly, let us consider
the Consequences of Original Sin. Our nature is sinful and it therefore deserves “God’s wrath and damnation.” The problem with humanity is not just that we make life miserable for each other, but
that we face the justice and holiness of our perfect creator God. When he assesses our nature — whether we are male or female, in utero or in a care home, straight or gay, Northern or Southern, or
whatever other divisions we might imagine — he judges that it is “very far gone from original righteousness” and so we all deserve to face the consequences.
The Bible tells us that “the
wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), that ultimate and fearful experience of God’s wrath. This is why all of humanity so desperately needs to receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour. It is easy to lose
this eternal perspective and become engrossed in the here-and-now, so may the dire consequences of Original Sin fire our passion for sharing the gospel whenever we can.
Thirdly, let us acknowledge
the Persistence of Original Sin. When anyone is born again by the Holy Spirit, coming to Christ in repentance and faith, receiving the sacrament of baptism, there is then “no condemnation” (Romans
8:1). Nevertheless, the sinful human nature remains, persistently waging war against the work of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 8:5–13). Our sinful desires (“concupiscence”, often used to
translate the Greek epithumia) still bubble away inside.
Were it not for the
justifying work of Christ and the continual sanctifying work of the Spirit, we would be no different to anyone else. Indeed, this is why we pray daily: “Almighty and most merciful Father… there is no
health in us: But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders…” As Anglicans we are realistic about who we are, even as believers—people who are continually dependent on God’s mercy, even
after conversion, and people who are engaged in a lifelong battle between our sinful human nature and God’s indwelling Spirit (Galatians 5:16–25 and Romans 6–7). Just as the tenth commandment shows
us that even our desires must be subjected to God’s will, so now as believers we must fight against all fleshly desires, which are hostile to God and his good will for his creation.
Historically, the ninth
article was written to combat errors propagated by the Roman Catholic church, particularly the Council of Trent, which tended to downplay just how bad we are as a result of the fall. So too today
there will be those whose theology lacks serious engagement with the reality of our fallen nature. This might be articulate theologians arguing for the blessing of human desire in various unbiblical
forms. Or it might be a ‘normal’ Christian, who doesn’t see a problem with doing what feels good to them as long as no one really gets hurt. Both need to return to God’s analysis of human nature and
realise the profound corruption that lies at the heart of human experience and desire.
Article 9 is
vital to healthy, biblical Christianity, for “superficiality in our consciousness of the nature and power of sin will tend not merely to a superficial statement of the Atonement of Christ, but to the
destruction of the idea of atonement itself.” (Griffith Thomas) Before long we will reach those articles that speak of the wonderful saving work of Christ, but for now let us return in contrition to
our merciful God and Father, “from whom all holy desires … do proceed.”
This post helps us understand why we say the creeds
regularly at a service.
Article 8 —
Of the Three Creeds
Posted by Simon Vibert, 8
Simon Vibert looks at what
our confession says about the creeds.
VIII — Of THE THREE
The Three creeds, Nicene
Creed, Athanasius’s Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy
Some of the 39 Articles were
particularly contentious and reflective of the controversies of the 16th Century Reformation in England and the Continent. Not so Article 8.
Article 8 is a central
statement around which Christians have agreed, namely advocating assent to the three central creeds as touchstones of authentic Christian faith. This is hardly to suggest that there are no
contentious issues or causes of debate in the early centuries of the Church (briefly touched on below). However, it was universally agreed across the Eastern and Western Church that these creeds
summarise the core belief of the universal Church. Hence, as the article commends, they “ought thoroughly to be received and believed”, not least because their content may be found in
However, despite widespread
assent to these three creeds in the 16th and 17th Century, the same is not true today. In 21st Century England there is contention over the function — and sometimes the theology — of the three
creeds. Why? For three reasons, in ascending seriousness:
First, the creeds are
largely not consistently recited in Anglican public worship. Maybe some believe them to be too formulaic, or jarring with an age which sees little pedagogical value in rote repetition.
Secondly, as a consequence
of the previous point perhaps, the creeds — particularly, but not exclusively, the Athanasian Creed — are unknown to today’s Anglicans. Hence, far from being a touchstone of orthodoxy, they do not
provide the true test of authentic faith as they were intended to.
Thirdly, also as a
consequence of the above, the creeds often are ignored when matters of public discourse and debate surface. The Church of England is in danger of forgetting the lessons learnt by previous generations
which led to the formation of the creeds. Equally disappearing from view are the 39 Articles themselves, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Canons of the Church.
BRIEF OVERVIEW OF CONTENT OF
THE THREE CREEDS
The Apostles’ Creed
succinctly summarises the core belief in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, which is necessary for salvation:
God the Father is creator of
all in heaven and earth. God the Son is conceived by the Holy Spirit, incarnated in human flesh, crucified, died, rose and ascended into heaven with the Father, and will come again as judge. God the
Holy Spirit, through whom we are made members of the universal church, helps us know the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
The Nicene Creed contains
the same Trinitarian formula of belief in one God, who is Father and creator of all; the only, and eternally begotten Son, of the same substance with the Father; and the life-giving Holy Spirit. This
creed expands the core beliefs, to speak of the entirety of the creation as of the Father, the very essence and being of the Son as being the same as the Father, and the Holy Spirit’s “procession”,
or “double procession” from the Father and the Son (the Filioque clause). In addition, following on from the historic Council of Nicaea, here is a confident affirmation of the holy, catholic
(universal), and apostolic Church, for which baptism is essential for forgiveness and true membership.
The Athanasian Creed begins
very differently: “whosoever wishes to be saved…must hold the catholic faith….(which is) this…”
The three triads “such as
the Father is, such as the Son is, such as the Holy Spirit is…” emphasise the equality and divinity of all three persons of the Trinity. Moreover, whilst we are to confess faith in each person of the
Trinity, we are in no way to infer that there are three Gods. Nor should we assume that by so emphasising the co-equal divinity of all three persons that we thereby deny the incarnation and humanity
of our Lord Jesus Christ.
RELEVANCE OF ARTICLE 8 FOR
THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND TODAY
The Apostles’ Creed is meant
to be recited at Morning and Evening Prayer, and the Nicene Creed is part of the service of Holy Communion. Athanasius’ Creed is proscribed instead of the Apostles Creed on fourteen occasions during
the liturgical year (including Christmas Day, Easter Day, Ascension Day, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday). Common Worship contains a shortened, responsive version of the Athanasian Creed for those who
cannot quite make it through the strong meat of the full edition.
It seems to me that ensuring
the three creeds are used in our corporate worship is highly desirable! Here are four Anglican reasons why I believe this to be the case:
1. Our faith is
Neither in the Scriptures
nor in our liturgy, is faith thought of as merely a private, personal affair. “Let the word of God dwell among you (plural)”, it says in Colossians 3:16. Yes, it must be private and personal, but it
must also be public and corporate. Along with the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Anglican liturgy assumes that our worship is a public declaration.
2. Our faith requires
We are called to believe
with our heart and confess with our lips in order to be saved (see Romans 10:9-10.). The act of consenting to the biblical beliefs of the Church is necessary for salvation. This is more than
recitation of the creeds, but surely not less?
3. Our faith is
corporate and communal
In an individualistic age we
want to affirm that corporate worship, somehow and in God’s providence, is more than the sum of the individuals’ present. Whatever we believe about prophecy in this context, the same principle should
work with our public declarations: “…if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all… exclaiming, ‘God is
really among you!’” (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).
4. Our faith is
It may well be that early
forms of the creeds lie behind 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, Philippians 2:5-11, and 2 Timothy 2:8-13. If this is the case then we have the earliest commendation of a form of set liturgy, to be recited in
public worship. The BCP gives us a pattern of worship which has stood the test of time, and when replaced by less formal (or no) liturgies is invariably weaker.
So, in the light of Article 8, let us publicly, believingly, actively, corporately, communally, and liturgically affirm our belief in the triune
The post this morning helps us to understand how the Old
Testament should be treated in the light of the New. It is a really helpful post by one of my Church History tutors from Wycliffe college.
Article 7 — Of the Old
Posted by Andrew Atherstone,
7 Mar 2017
Andrew Atherstone has a look
at what the 39 Articles teach about the continuity of the testaments.
VII — Of THE OLD
The Old Testament is not
contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and man. Wherefore there are
not to be heard which feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the
civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet, notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called
Article 6 has told us that
the Bible is our sole authority for understanding the gospel of salvation, and listed the books of the Old and New Testaments. But then two questions immediately follow: (i) how does the Old
Testament relate to the New? (ii) which Old Testament laws are binding on the New Testament believer? Article 7 answers both these questions, bringing together two separate articles written by Thomas
Cranmer in the 1550s.
In the early Christian
centuries, heretics like Marcion and the Gnostics threw away the Old Testament as redundant and unspiritual, and focused only on their favourite passages in the New. Many churches do the same today,
often implicitly, by driving a wedge between the testaments and neglecting the Old. But Article 7 makes clear that they belong together and there is no contradiction between them. The Bible is one
book, written by one God, and it teaches one overall message about salvation through faith in Jesus our Messiah and only Mediator. The Jewish Scriptures ‘bear witness about me’, says Jesus (John
5:39). Beginning with Moses and the prophets, he showed the disciples how the whole Old Testament points to himself (Luke 24:27).
Griffith Thomas puts it
memorably in The Principles of Theology: the Old Testament is crowded with ‘unfulfilled prophecies’, ‘unexplained ceremonies’, and ‘unsatisfied longings’, all of which are met in Jesus Christ. From
beginning to end – from Genesis 3:15 to Malachi 4:1 – the Old Testament looks forward with anticipation to the arrival of the Messiah. Therefore, don’t listen to those who claim that the patriarchs
‘did look only for transitory promises’. On the contrary, God’s people in the Old Testament recognized that the temporal blessings they enjoyed – like the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey –
were only a foretaste of much better things to come. Abraham was a model believer, trusting the promises of God for eternal life. He lived as a nomad in a tent, but was ‘looking forward to the city
with foundations, whose architect and builder is God’ (Hebrews 11:10). So keep preaching the Old Testament, because it is full of the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.
The old and new covenants
are not contradictory, but nor are they identical. There are continuities and discontinuities between them, especially in the application of Old Testament law. Article 7 divides the law into three
types – ceremonial, civil, and moral. This explanation was popular among the Reformers, borrowed from medieval scholars like Thomas Aquinas, though it has been challenged by some recent Reformed
theologians for imposing an external grid which would have surprised both Moses and Paul. Nevertheless, the threefold division remains a helpful shorthand and aide memoire.
The ceremonial law
concerning priesthood and purity, sacrifice and sabbath, has all been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. These rituals were ‘a shadow of the good things to come’ (Colossians 2:17, Hebrews 10:1). Jesus is our
great high priest and the ultimate sacrifice, so it is foolish to return to these old ceremonies which were merely signposts to the Saviour. There is no place in the Christian church for a special
order of ordained priests, with their altars and ritual ablutions and eucharistic sacrifices. Such practices denigrate the glory and finality of the ministry of Jesus. Why return to the shadows when
the reality is here?
The civil law concerning
church-state relations and judicial punishments is also no longer binding on the Christian. The city of Münster, in northern Germany, stands as a famous warning to those who handle the Old Testament
wrongly. In the 1530s, under the leadership of radical prophets, the city tried to reestablish a theocratic monarchy, modelled on the reigns of King David and King Solomon, including the
reintroduction of polygamy. Many crimes were punishable by death (as laid down in the Mosaic law), such as blasphemy, adultery, and disrespect of parents. The Münster experiment ended in a bloodbath.
Article 7 reminds us that those laws were intended only for the Old Testament nation of Israel, which had a specific purpose in God’s salvation plan. Under the new covenant, Christian nations are
free to develop their own constitutions and legal frameworks.
So what about the moral law,
like the Ten Commandments? Opponents of the Reformers accused them of being Antinomians, because if we preach justification by faith alone not by works of the law (Romans 3:28, Galatians 2:16), won’t
that lead to lawlessness and immorality? If simply believing in Jesus is enough for salvation, why worry about moral behaviour? But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tightens the moral law; he does
not abolish it (Matthew 5:17-20). Both Old and New Testaments expound God’s command, ‘Be holy, as I am holy’ (Leviticus 11:44, 1 Peter 1:16). So don’t listen to those who pretend that provided we
profess faith in Christ, it doesn’t matter how we live. True Christian faith will always produce the fruit of holiness (see Article 12 for more on this).
Cranmer’s original article
on the Old Testament law ended with an extra warning (deleted by the Elizabethans): ‘wherefore they are not to be hearkened unto, who affirm that Holy Scripture is given only to the weak, and do
boast themselves continually of the Spirit, of whom (they say) they have learned such things as they teach, although the same be most evidently repugnant to the Holy Scripture.’ False teachers in
every generation claim a special hot-line to the Holy Spirit as their reason for departing from the Bible. For example, the notorious German radical, Thomas Müntzer, asserted in his Prague Manifesto
(1521) that we must listen to the direct voice of the Spirit, not to ‘the dead letter of Scripture’. But God’s Spirit never speaks in such a way as to contradict the Scriptures, because all Scripture
is itself breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). Sam Allberry tweeted, in the midst of recent controversy about God’s will for the Church: ‘“Waiting for the Spirit to speak” about something sounds
godly and humble. But if the Spirit has already spoken it’s ungodly and arrogant’ (@SamAllberry, 13 February 2017). That’s classic Cranmerian theology compressed into 140 characters.
The Spirit and the Scriptures are always in harmony. The Old Testament and the New Testament always concur. So keep preaching the whole of the Bible –
every part of it, from cover to cover – ‘the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27). Treasure, study, and obey the whole of God’s written Word, because it is the excellent and urgent message of salvation
to a needy world.
This morning we see that as Christians, we are called to use God's word to help us to run our lives and to learn to trust that God has our salvation covered.
Article 6 —
Of the Sufficiency of the holy Scriptures for salvation
Posted by Marty Ford, 6 Mar
Marty Foord explores the
thorny issue of the sufficiency of scripture in today's post on the 39 Articles.
VI — Of THE SUFFICIENCY OF
THE HOLY SCRIPTURES FOR SALVATION
Holy Scripture containeth
all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be
thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the
Of the Names and Number of
the Canonical Books
The First Book of
The Second Book of
The First Book of
The Second Book of
The First Book of
The Second Book of
The First Book of
The Second Book of
The Book of
The Book of Job
Cantica, or Songs of
Four Prophets the
Twelve Prophets the
And the other Books (as
Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:
The Third Book of
The Fourth Book of
The Book of
The Book of
The rest of the Book of
The Book of
Jesus the Son of
The Song of the Three
The Story of
Of Bel and the
The Prayer of
The First Book of
The Second Book of
All the Books of the New
Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them Canonical.
“Yes, Scripture is God’s
word but we cannot as Christians do without the insights of modern science and recent medical advances”. “We know much more now about sexual orientation than in New Testament times, and we must take
that into account”. Have you ever heard these kinds of statements? They focus on what article six addresses: the sufficiency of Scripture. The first five of the thirty-nine articles reaffirmed the
Church’s universal beliefs. Article six now turns to issues of controversy, particularly with medieval Catholicism.
1. THE SUFFICIENCY OF
For what is Scripture
sufficient? This is the critical question because there are many issues the Bible does not address such as the nature of quantum physics, the fundamentals of genetics, or the complexities of the
human brain. Article six clearly states how the Bible is sufficient: “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation”. Scripture’s purpose is to bring about people’s salvation. It is not
necessarily to explain the intricacies of DNA, or provide a cure for cancer.
Now, “salvation” in article
six is not simply becoming a Christian. For the reformers it also entailed perseverance until final salvation on judgement day. In short, Scripture is sufficient for both the conversion and
conservation of believers.
Why did Scripture’s
sufficiency need affirmation in the sixteenth century? Because many in medieval Catholicism maintained that Scripture lacked necessary knowledge for salvation. They held that Jesus handed onto the
church other teachings and rituals not found in Scripture. Various medieval theologians argued that these unwritten traditions had been preserved by the Holy Spirit through a continual succession of
bishops passing them on through time. As John Eck, the fierce opponent of Martin Luther said, Christ’s apostles “taught many more things than they wrote, which have equal authority with those things
Indeed the Roman Catholic
Council of Trent followed Eck, officially insisting that the church’s,“truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the apostles from the
mouth of Christ himself, or from the apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand.”
What were examples of these
unwritten traditions? Doctrines like the perpetual virginity of Mary and rituals like the need to face East in a church service or the sign of the cross.
The reformers admitted that
Jesus himself did and said many more things not found in Scripture. But that was not the issue. It was whether what was written in the Bible was adequate for salvation. And the verse to which the
reformers appealed was: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah,
the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30–31)
What is written in John’s
Gospel (which also assumes the authority of the Old Testament) is sufficient for salvation. And with every NT book added to this, the Bible only becomes more sufficient.
So, if Scripture is
sufficient for salvation, article six draws out the obvious implications: “so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be
believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”
Here article six
unmistakeably rejected any need for extra-biblical traditions in a person’s salvation. It released the believer from the burden of a legion of ceremonies which had accumulated by the sixteenth
century. Moreover, as the Heinrich Bullinger noted, it would be impossible to prove these oral traditions came from the apostles.
2. THE SIZE OF
If Scripture is sufficient
the next obvious questions arises: which Bible do we mean? The medieval church inherited a disagreement from the early church about the number of books in Scripture. The twenty-seven New Testament
books were not in doubt but there was a question about the Old Testament. It was originally written in Hebrew (with some chapters in Aramaic). However, several centuries before Christ the Old
Testament was translated into Greek. This was understandable given that many scattered Jews lived outside of Israel and were raised in a world that spoke Greek. Legend had it that seventy or perhaps
seventy-two people translated the OT separately into Greek, and then discovered their translations were identical. Hard evidence shows this story is highly likely a myth. But in light of it, the
Greek OT came to be known as the Septuagint.
Now the Septuagint that
circulated amidst the early church contained a collection of extra books not found in the Hebrew OT. They became known as the “apocrypha”. What was the status of these books? On the one hand,
Augustine thought these extra books were inspired Scripture because he believed the story of the seventy translators and that such a miracle proved the Septuagint was God-breathed. On the other hand,
the renowned linguist Jerome (AD347-420), contended that the apocrypha were not in the Old Testament because they were never received by the Jews as inspired Scripture.
Martin Luther, at his famous
Leipzig debate with John Eck in 1519, first concluded that the Old Testament apocrypha was not inspired Scripture due to its dubious statements used to justify purgatory. The reformers followed
Luther and a long succession of early church fathers and medieval theologians. This debate prompted the Roman Catholic Council of Trent to define the limits of Scripture, the first ecumenical council
to do so. In 1546 Trent affirmed that the Old Testament apocrypha was inspired Scripture. This was a striking conclusion given the many eminent Christian figures who believed the apocrypha was
uninspired, which even included Luther’s great theological nemesis, Cardinal Cajetan.
In light of Trent it was
important the English Church produced an official position on the limits of Scripture. And article six explicitly sides with Jerome (“as Hierome saith”) in rejecting the apocrypha as inspired
Scripture. The Bible was confined to the thirty-nine books of the Hebrew Old Testament and the twenty-seven New Testament books because their “authority was never any doubt in the Church”. In other
words, throughout the centuries as Christians have sought to discern which books are Spirit-inspired and which are not, there developed an unquestionable core. The apocrypha were too disputed to be
But article six does not
conclude the apocrypha is useless. Rather, it affirms the books as helpful for an “example of life and instruction of manners”. But the article explains, the apocrypha cannot be used in the way
inspired Scripture can: “to establish any doctrine”. That is for the Bible alone.
3. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF
Article six’s affirmation of
the sufficiency and size of Scripture has immense significance for us today. Firstly, Scripture’s sufficiency is one of the most neglected teachings of our day. If Scripture is sufficient for the
believer’s conversion and conservation then Scripture must contain all we need for a healthy church life. Put another way, Scripture should provide the rationale for all church activity. However
helpful management techniques and leadership methods may be, they do not in themselves contain the life-giving food that converts and conserves church members. Technique is only as useful as it helps
promote the Christ clothed in Scripture.
sufficiency helps us grasp the place of popular disciplines like science and psychology. They may be useful in learning more about God’s breath-taking world but they alone can never convert and
conserve believers. Too often a discipline like psychology seeks to prescribe what is good or evil for humans. But psychology is unable to define what is good or evil. That is the prerogative of a
purposeful creator alone. Psychology does well when it describes. It alone cannot prescribe. True, medical science may assist us to live more comfortably. But without Scripture this amounts to making
the Titanic more luxurious as it sinks. Disciplines like science and psychology are wonderful servants for a biblical worldview, but terrible masters. No matter how much we learn about the nature of
sexual orientation (description), for example, it is for the one who designed sex to say how it is used (prescription).
sufficiency and size of Scripture reminds us to derive our Christian beliefs from the sixty-six books of Scripture alone. No matter how old, attractive, or ornate, a church tradition, if it cannot be
established from Scripture it cannot be imposed. On the other hand, the current postmodern climate pressures us to create and chose our own values: “I have the right to believe what I like”. Not so
in light of Scripture. If Christians are “to establish doctrine” (about salvation) from Scripture’s sixty-six books alone, then we have no choice but test all beliefs against Scripture itself no
matter how culturally uncomfortable the conclusions may be.
Today's article deals with the supernatural nature of God - the Holy Spirit. Let us be a church that seeks to know the gifts of the Spirit.
Article 5 — Of the Holy Ghost
Posted by Adam Young, 5 Mar 2017
In our Lenten series on the Thirty-nine Articles, Adam Young explores the teaching of Article 5, on the
V — Of THE HOLY GHOST
The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory, with the
Father and the Son, very and eternal God.
It is perhaps ironic that an Article which was only added by Matthew Parker in 1563—seemingly as an
after-thought to make the Articles dealing with the Trinity balance out— is today one of the most controversial. He didn’t even come up with something original and instead simply copied from the
Württemberg Confession of 1552!
The ‘most’ controversial aspect of this Article is not what I want to focus on—but something must be said
about it. The controversy is that it says the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque in Latin). This is certainly the Anglican stance given, it is not only mentioned here but is
also found in both the Athanasian Creed and BCP version of the Nicene Creed, which Article 8 makes clear contain the teaching of the Bible.
In the West this short phrase “and the Son” has not been controversial since the eleventh century and most
accepted it long before then. In the East this phrase was never accepted and continues to cause strain in the relations between our churches. The arguments and debates are fascinating to read (though
not always edifying!). Perhaps the best way to bridge this divide is to accept the understanding promoted by the 1439 Council of Florence—which the Anglican church has never renounced—that the Holy
Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. This keeps the primacy of the Father which is so important to the East but also makes sense of the Bible passages referring to the relationship
between the Spirit and Son. To many such debates are rather philosophical and academic and whilst undoubtedly an interesting and important discussion let us move on to the real ‘meat‘ of the
The most important part of this Article is that the person of the Holy Spirit is “of one substance,
majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.” Whilst this should not be controversial, sadly, it is. I have found the number of people in our churches who fail to grasp the
most basic of beliefs about the Holy Spirit is quite frightening. I will never forget my horror when at college a student training for ministry—and one with experience as an evangelist—was surprised
to be told the Holy Spirit was a person and not just a power of some kind. A year later, sat around the table at an Easter retreat, a friend from a very different wing of the church expressed the
belief that the Holy Spirit was something akin to the candle lighter the Father and the Son used in the world. In a completely different church I have heard a pastor refer to the Holy Spirit as some
kind of currency the Father gives to His children to use in the world!
Let us be clear: the Holy Spirit is truly and fully God. He is as much God as Jesus or the Father. He is as
glorious and majestic as the Father or the Son—indeed they share one majestic glory. The Holy Spirit is eternal and He is God. The Holy Spirit is not some Star Wars-esque ‘force’ or merely the power
of God and he is certainly not some divine miniature flamethrower or magical pound coin! He is the third person of the Trinity.
That the Holy Spirit is a ‘person’ is clear in Scripture. Firstly, the titles given to him are personal: He
is the Comforter and the Advocate—indeed he is ‘another advocate’ (John 14.16) like Jesus showing the Spirit is a person like Jesus is. Furthermore, he ‘intercedes’ for Christians (Romans 8:26-27)
and can be personally ‘grieved’ (Ephesians 4.30). He has a ‘will’ (1 Corinthians 12.4-11) and ‘leads’ believers (Galatians 5.18). You can have ‘fellowship’ with him (2 Corinthians 13.14) and you can
lie to him (Acts 5.3). He speaks and sets people apart for ministry (Acts 13.2) and then he sends them out (Acts 13.4).
All of this radically points away from an emotionless force or mere expression of divine will and towards a
personable person, a relatable revelation, and an emotional emissary. This is someone you can have a very real relationship with—one which is just as rich, active, and varied as the relationships we
have with the Father and the Son.
As Christians it is absolutely vital we capture this vision and seek not only the gifts he offers us but
also simply seek him as he is, for who he is. When we know the Spirit and relate to him we will find he points us to Jesus in the most beautiful ways imaginable and turns upside down our discipleship
with his grace and power.
A large part of the reason I would personally identify as a ‘Charismatic’ Anglican is because of the
wonderful things Scripture says of the Spirit and our need for a relationship with him. It is a sad and tragic irony that such a biblical passion has often led to Christians obsessing over the gifts
of the Spirit rather than seeking him, and in doing so taking their eyes off Jesus. It is important to recognise that the Holy Spirit is the Humble Spirit who always points us to Jesus and his
sacrifice on Calvary. Even his gifts are given to help us know and proclaim Jesus to each other and the world!
It is good that Archbishop Parker added this to the 39 Articles. Too often the Holy Spirit
is sidelined or given a few words and nothing more. To have a whole Article dedicated to his majesty and glory is a wonderful thing. This may be the second shortest of the all the Articles but it is
no less important for the brevity. Amongst all the other key doctrines and teachings of our confession let us daily ensure we never lose sight of the glory, the majesty, and the divinity of the
Person of the Holy Spirit.
Here we see more reason for our hope, hope that is found in Jesus' resurrection.
Article 4 —
Of the Resurrection of Christ
Posted by Kirsty Birkett, 4
Kirsty Birkett looks at what
the Thirty-nine Articles say about Jesus’s life after death.
IV — Of THE RESURRECTION OF
Christ did truly rise again
from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man’s nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge
all Men at the last day.
‘Why was Jesus raised from
the dead?’, I have sometimes heard Christians ask. ‘I understand that he died for our sins – he paid the penalty, he took my punishment. That I understand. But he said on the cross that it is
finished. So why did he have to rise again?’
It’s a good question, and
shows the need for proper doctrinal understanding to put the different parts of God’s story together theologically. The answer I’ve often heard given to these enquiring Christians isn’t bad, but
could be better. ‘If Jesus didn’t rise,’ the answer goes, ‘how would we know that it worked?’
As far as it goes, this
answer is accurate. It is true that by raising him from the dead, God vindicates Jesus, declares that his wrath has indeed been satisfied, that Jesus has truly paid for the sins that he bore although
he had no sin of his own. But the resurrection is about much more than just knowledge.
Jesus was raised to life for
our justification, Romans 4:25 tells us. Jesus is the resurrection, as he told Martha in John 11; with him has started the resurrection age that the Old Testament looked forward to at the end of
time. His resurrection causes us to be born again to a living hope, we know from 1 Peter 1. Now resurrected, Jesus lives for eternity in right relationship with God; as we live in faith-union with
Jesus, we share in that right relationship, enjoying our justification now. Yes, with his death, it was finished, in that the propitiatory sacrifice for sin was made; but in his resurrection, his
perfect righteousness brings us with him into the very throne room of God. There is no condemnation for us, because he lives, interceding for us before God.
The resurrection is a
doctrinally rich topic. Jesus’ resurrection is inextricably linked to his judgement, as Paul tells us in Acts 17:31: ‘God has fixed a day on which he will judge the world by the man he has appointed,
and he has given assurance of this by raising that man from the dead.’ Soon Jesus will return. We are almost there. We suffer trials as we wait; but they will be nothing compared to the glory that is
about to come. There will be injustice as we struggle to live out our days in this fallen world which is hostile to Christ. But the saints will be vindicated. Jesus is coming in judgement, and every
knee will bow – some joyfully, many reluctantly, but there will be no doubt of his lordship then.
Article 4 also reminds us
that the resurrection is physical; Jesus’ resurrection was real and actually happened. His body was dead, and then it was alive. Jesus came back from the dead in a renewed and marvellous human body,
and so will we. Christians are pro-matter. We believe the physical creation is good, and we do not aim to escape it or transcend it. The new creation will be better, freed from its frustration, but
it will still be physical, and we will have physical bodies in it. We do not look forward to an ethereal existence, disembodied consciousness in communion with God, but to eternal resurrected bodies
living in a physical world.
Jesus’ resurrection is the
demonstration of the defeat of death, which has held all humanity in fear since Adam’s sin. We need not fear death when we are in Christ, for just as he was raised from the dead, we will also be
raised. Death and its related decay will not be part of the new creation; the sources of tears that are so frequent in this world will be done away with.
This means that the
resurrection is our hope. We do not mourn as the pagans do, wondering if death is the end, and never knowing for sure what might lie after it. We know that Christ rose as the first-fruits from the
dead, and therefore so shall we who are in Christ. The resurrection age has begun, ushered in by Jesus’ resurrection. The last days are here.
So it matters how we live
now. It matters that people come to repentance so they will meet him as Saviour, not enemy. It matters that we live in the light of the end, bringing the good news about how to escape judgement and
glorifying God in our lives. Christ was raised so that we might walk in newness of life; so we should not let sin reign in our mortal bodies (Romans 6:12). The end is near, so we should be
self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of our prayers, loving one another (1 Peter 4:7). Jesus will return and transform our bodies to be like his glorious body, so we should stand firm in the
Lord (Philippians 4:1).
resurrection is not a doctrine just for the future: Jesus’ resurrection and return in judgement is something that should guide our every moment, as we live day by day, making decisions to do his will
rather than ours, loving one another, showing hospitality, disciplining sin and contending for the gospel. The resurrection means that, in the midst of pain and death, we rejoice. We always have
reason for rejoicing. Death will soon be no more.
I appreciate there is a lot to take in with these posts but I think if you can persist with reading
them, we will become much richer for the effort made. For today's post let's give thanks that Jesus has faced the ultimate punishment for us, and that those who follow him have nothing to fear in
Posted by Mark D. Thompson, 3 Mar 2017
Mark Thompson examines one of the most controversial of all the Thirty-nine Articles.
III — OF THE GOING DOWN OF CHRIST INTO HELL
As Christ died for us, and was buried, so also it is to be
believed, that he went down into Hell.
Article 3 is the shortest but, at the time they were written, one of the most controverted of the 39 Articles. Debates on the continent spilled over to England,
where, amongst others, the Marian exiles who had spent time in Geneva began to champion the Swiss reformers’ understanding that this was an important article that helped us to understand the fullness
of what Christ suffered on the cross. The version that was approved in 1563 and published in 1571 was shorter than the same article as it had appeared in 1553. A further sentence which referenced 1
Peter 3 and spoke of Christ’s spirit being present with the spirits in prison and preaching to them was removed, it seems, on the floor of the English convocation of bishops. This had the effect of
presenting the fact of Christ’s
presence among the dead without providing an explanation.
One of the difficulties then and now with this article has been the use of the word ‘hell’. The original Anglo-Saxon word simply meant ‘covered’ or ‘unseen’. It
referred to a realm that was beyond human perception. In this way, it echoed the Greek word ‘hades’ or the Hebrew word ‘sheol’ that spoke of the realm of the departed. However, by the time of the
Reformation the word had narrowed its meaning to the place where the unrepentant wicked experience the judgment and wrath of God. This reality had been designated by a very different Greek word
So one of the big questions surrounding this article and the article from the Apostles’ Creed which it reflects, is whether the word used designates the place of
the dead or the place of torment and judgment. It would seem that in 1563 the Convocation was content to leave all options open.
Not quite all. It is clear from the draft papers that Thomas Cranmer and his successors wanted to avoid any suggestion of purgatory or a second chance for
conversion after death. Cranmer’s original line to that effect was probably dropped because the subject would be dealt with in a later article (Article 22).
The most important question concerning this article is the question of its biblical warrant. Is it really what the Bible teaches? Those who have spoken about it
(and the clause from the Apostles’ Creed) have in fact appealed to quite an array of biblical passages to provide a ground for talking like this.
a. The words of David in Psalm 16:10, taken up by Peter in Acts 2:27, 31 and applied to Jesus: ‘You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one
see corruption’. He was in Sheol but he was not abandoned there.
b. Jonah, the only Old Testament prophet to whom the Lord compares himself, experienced judgment in order to save the lives of others. ‘For just as Jonah
was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish’, Jesus said, ‘so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’ (Matthew 12:40).
c In Matthew 12:29, in answer to the blasphemy of the Jewish leaders, Jesus asked ‘Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he
first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house’ (Matthew 12:29). Some Lutherans tended to favour this as an explanation of what happened when Jesus ‘descended into hell’.
d. Romans 10:5–7 speaks of not needing to ascend to heaven to bring Christ down or descending to the abyss in order to bring Christ up from the dead. It is
part of a larger argument but assumes that at one point he was among the dead, though he is no longer there. He does not need to be brought back because he has been raised from the dead.
e. Ephesians 4, and in particular Paul’s explanation of Psalm 68:18, involves the expression ‘he descended to the lower parts of the earth’. While some
have taken this as simply a reference to the incarnation, why did Paul use this expression if all he meant was ‘the earth’?
f. Colossians 2:15 speaks of how Christ ‘disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in the cross’. In the
context, though, it is clear that what Paul has in mind is the triumph of the cross itself and not some subsequent activity.
g. The most often quoted text in this connection is 1 Peter 3:18–20, the text referred to in the 1553 Forty-Two Articles. The text contains a number of
unanswered questions (when did Christ preach to the people of Noah’s day? Through Noah at the time of the Flood or after the crucifixion? What was the purpose of that preaching? To save or announce
his triumph?). However, in its context this is an illustration intended as an encouragement to persevere in suffering because Christ suffered ‘once for all’ in order to save us.
h. Revelation 1:18 contains the words of the glorious risen Christ: ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am
alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades’. It is a message of complete and utter triumph over the last great enemy of men and women. Death has been defeated, completely emptied of
The idea of Christ’s descent to hell, however it might be explained, is based on the cumulative evidence of biblical testimony like this. Perhaps it is
ultimately unhelpful to anchor it in any one of these passages but we should rather see it arising as part of the biblical theological movement from promise to fulfilment. The great curse that
entered human experience after the Fall—death and the right and perfect judgment of a holy God—has finally been overcome by the one who himself experienced it in all its fullness. There is not one
aspect of death as we experience that he did not share in order to triumph over it. As one writer deftly put it, ‘Death has no mystery which He did not fathom’ (A.J. Tait).
What then is the theological and practical import of this doctrine? In outline, we must say:
1. There is no second chance on the other side of the grave. Nothing in the Bible suggests anything like post-mortem repentance or post-mortem faith. It is
our response to the gospel in this life which determines our destiny, a response entirely enabled by the work of God’s Spirit in us. There is no license here for a probationary hell, purgatory, or a
2. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the ground of our personal salvation but also much more than that. There is no part of creation that remains
untouched by what God has done in Christ. The cross changes everything and by the power of what Jesus accomplished there, the principalities and powers are disarmed and we have nothing to fear
3. The cross is sufficient. From the cross Jesus said ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). Jesus bore all the physical and spiritual dimensions of the curse
against sin on the cross. It does not need to be supplemented because it is a complete redemption.
4. The descent into hell is not something added to the cross (he died and he descended into hell) but instead a theological
perspective on the cross. Jesus bore death for us as a physical and spiritual reality. He bore the whole thing, not just the dimensions we can witness from this side of the experience. He drank the
cup of God’s wrath to the dregs.
5. The descent into hell helps us understand the resurrection as well. It was a real resurrection and not simply a resuscitation. He was raised out of the
fullness of the judgment he took upon himself for us.
6. The descent into hell helps us to see the extent of God’s action to save us. He did not deal with our guilt and corruption and alienation from him and
enslavement to sin in a superficial way. In the weakness and humiliation of the cross, the sovereign God triumphed over it all and has left no aspect of it intact. God is completely and utterly our
7. The descent into hell is a richly comforting doctrine for Christian men and women. There is no aspect of what faces us that he has not experienced and
emptied of power. Those who belong to Jesus have absolutely nothing to fear. Jesus has the keys of death and Hades.
Article 2 — Of the Word or Son of God, which was made Very Man
Posted by Rob Munro, 2 Mar 2017
Rob Munro continues our series of 40 Days in the 39 Articles, by looking at Article 2.
II — OF THE WORD OR SON OF GOD, WHICH WAS MADE VERY MAN
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one
substance with the Father, took man’s nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say the Godhead and manhood, were joined together
in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried, to reconcile his Father to us and to be a sacrifice, not only for
original guilt but also for all actual sins of men.
Christianity is uniquely distinguished from any other faith, not only in its teaching about the Trinity articulated in Article
1, but particularly in understanding the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is the subject of Article 2.
Historically, this article substantially reproduces the 3rd article of the Augsburg Confession of 1530. This was intended to
summarise the teaching about Jesus from the Nicene and Athanasian creeds, with the addition of the phrase about eternal generation and consubstantiality added in 1563 from the Wurtemberg Articles
(when Cranmer’s original 42 articles were trimmed to 39). Only in its last phrase, referring to the atonement, does it address an area of controversy with respect to Roman Catholicism. In its
historical context it was more concerned to articulate the universally agreed creedal truths about Jesus over and against some Anabaptist revisiting of ancient heresies.
What is essential for us to know about Jesus Christ, according to the Article? Three things: how he is truly God, how he is
also truly human, and how he is our Saviour.
Jesus is truly God because his essence or substance is divine, he has a whole and perfect divine nature. Yet, although
complete in his Godhead, he is in eternal and perfect relationship with the Father. He is begotten from everlasting; this is his “eternal generation”, which means that he is wholly God and yet
distinguishable in relation to the Father, as a Son.
Sonship here emphasises, not that he was ‘birthed’ in time by the Father — which is the ancient heresy of Arius against which
the Nicene Creed was written in 325AD — but rather that he is God in the same way that the Father is God. Neither does Jesus’ Sonship imply that he is inferior to the Father; the analogy of the order
of Father and Son is not something constraining the Son in relation to the Father, but is the free and eternal expression of their relationship in the Trinity. We are only aware of this relationship
because, as the “Word” of the Father, the Son perfectly and completely expresses the one will and revealed purpose of God.
For human beings to be able to be in a real personal relationship to this living God, it is necessary that Jesus is also truly
human. Jesus became wholly and perfectly human by incarnation, by a miraculous conception in the womb of a virgin (by which she was “blessed”). He thereby acquired an essence or substance that is
really, wholly, and perfectly human. By incarnation, two whole and perfect natures came together in one Person. This understanding was the fruit of centuries of reflection by the church, expressed in
The Son is “very God” (i.e. truly God). Arius denied this in 325, but a divine creature is not worthy of worship nor a true
revealer of God. The Son is “very Man.” This is asserted against the Apollinarian heresy (c. 360) which denied Christ’s true humanity by saying he was only a divine mind in a human body — which made
the righteousness of his life irrelevant to us and fruitless for us to follow.
The Son is “one Person, never to be divided”, against Nestorianism in 431, which denied the unity of the Person of Christ,
saying he was two persons united in a ‘marriage’ of sorts — thus Jesus’ humanity becomes only a good human example to us, not a divine revelation.
The Son is “one Christ, very God and very Man”, against Eutychianism in 451 which denied the distinction of the two natures of
Christ — which would have meant Jesus had a different sort of nature to ours and thereby would be unable to take our place in the atonement.
Having established Jesus’ perfect divinity and humanity, the Article summarises how he is uniquely and perfectly the Saviour
of his people. Salvation is first rooted in the real historical events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. In his human nature, Jesus “truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried”, against Docetic
heresies that said it only seemed that way.
Jesus’ resurrection is affirmed later in Article 4, but Article 2 establishes that the climax of the work of Christ is by his
death, and it comes us at great cost to him, which reveals the great depth of his love for his people. Jesus’ death primarily achieves two things: reconciliation and atonement. Jesus’ purpose in
dying was “to reconcile his Father to us”, which is an unusual phrase as Scripture more commonly talks of us being reconciled to God. However the Article establishes the point that our real problem
Jesus dies for is not in us — that we have fallen out with God, but rather that our sinfulness deserves God’s righteous anger, and only the death penalty will satisfy our violation of his
That is why Jesus is our Saviour by being “a sacrifice”. A suitable, perfect sacrifice dying in our place — a substitutionary
atonement — satisfies God’s justice not only for “original guilt” (which is the same as “original sin” seen from God’s perspective), but also our “actual sins”. This last reference is specifically
addressed against the Roman Catholic view that while Jesus’ death dealt with original sin, it required the sacrifices of Masses to deal with our actual sins. However, the Article implies Jesus one
perfect sacrifice is sufficient in itself to atone. This also underlines that Jesus’ atonement does more than make salvation a potential for anyone to tap into; rather it dealt with our specific real
and actual sins — his atonement is objective and definite.
In summary, Jesus Christ is unique. There is no other person who is both perfectly God and perfectly human, and thereby able
to truly reveal God to us and able to identify wholly with us. Only he can be a Mediator between us and God (Article 7). He alone thereby is qualified to be the sacrifice that atones for our sins,
bringing us reconciliation and forgiveness. The Article establishes how the slogan is true: NO CHRIST=NO GOD; KNOW CHRIST=KNOW GOD.
Article 1 — Of Faith in the Holy Trinity
by Mark Smith, 1 Mar 2017
Mark Smith begins our series of blog posts for Lent, on the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.
FAITH IN THE HOLY TRINITY
THERE is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both
visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Protestant, we need to be catholic. That’s the key point of Article 1, and the sure foundation upon which all the Articles are built.
though, you might say — wasn’t the Reformation about being against Catholicism, about refuting its many errors?
here’s the thing — the Protestant Reformers were so against the Roman Catholic Church because they saw that it had ceased to be truly catholic. The word
‘catholic’ means ‘universal’ — so to be ‘catholic’ means to believe what the Church has always believed. That’s what we’re affirming in the Apostles’ Creed when we say that we believe in ‘the holy
sixteenth century, the Church of Rome had deviated so far from the truths revealed in Scripture, that it could no longer be properly recognised as ‘catholic’ any more. It was the Protestants who were
the true catholics — they weren’t breaking away from the church, they were returning to it.
when the Anglican Reformers came to write the Articles, they made this conviction dramatically clear. They were going ‘back to basics’ — back to the true faith, the uncorrupted faith, the faith
authoritatively proclaimed in God’s Word, the faith articulated by the church’s great champions of orthodoxy.
why the 39 Articles don’t kick off with a ‘hot potato’ issue (like the role of the Pope), but by going back to the most central of all Christian beliefs: that there is one God, who is Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit.
easy for the doctrine of the Trinity to appear rather arcane — or even irrelevant — to us. Isn’t it the kind of thing that’s great for keeping academic theologians in a job, but has precious little
to offer to the ordinary believer in the pew?
it’s certainly true that Article 1 is rigorously and richly theological — it breathes the air of centuries of studious reflection on the biblical witness to
the nature of God. Anglicans can have confidence here — what we believe wasn’t jotted down in a hurry on the back of a postcard, but handed down carefully across many hundreds of years.
fact, good theology is not the enemy of pastoral relevance, but its necessary precondition. Article 1 is, indeed, supremely practical.
the God it’s inviting us to consider.
a God utterly unlike me. I’m mortal, he’s everlasting; I’m physical, he’s ‘without body’; I’m at the whim of my emotional ups and downs; he’s without passions. And the list goes on: I’m frequently
powerless, he possesses ‘infinite power’; I’m frequently stupid, he’s perfectly wise; I’m frequently sinful, he is ‘goodness’ itself.
relentless ‘distancing’ of God’s nature and character from ours is, perhaps paradoxically, profoundly consoling. I’m not putting my faith in another ‘creature’, or a bigger ‘Me’ in the sky, a mere
projection of my own failings and hang-ups. The God revealed in the Bible, and affirmed in Article 1, is alone Creator (‘the maker and preserver of all things’) — and that means that he stands
outside and above everything else.
who governs the cosmos, who numbers every hair on my head, is perfectly good and perfectly wise — he knows what he’s doing with my life. The God who holds the universe in being, and who gives me my
every breath, is fully present to me at every moment, even when I’m feeling abandoned or alone. The God who is eternal, who is Life itself, can alone offer me true hope in the face of my own death,
and amid the shadow of the grave.
there’s still more to say, because this one God is ‘three Persons, of one substance, power and eternity’. God is not a lonely monad, reliant on his creation to enable him to relate and to love.
God is relationship, God is love. He is the eternal, loving, joyful communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other
words, God doesn’t need me to be himself — before anything existed, he loved.
too is wonderful, liberating news for us to hear. Because it means that God doesn’t create me as a part of a deal he struck, or relate to me on the basis of quid pro
quo. It means that the salvation he offers doesn’t depend on me fulfilling certain requirements, but can be received by me freely as a pure gift, no strings attached. It is a salvation given by
grace alone, through faith alone.
that’s a truth that the Anglican Reformers especially wanted to recover. That’s why they went ‘back to basics’ in Article 1, back to the Trinity, back to God himself. Because they knew that to be
Protestant, we need to be catholic.
more on the idea that God is ‘without passions’, see this
article from a recent edition of Churchman, or this short Formulary Friday post.
Have you ever wondered why the day that Jesus
is touched and killed on a cross is called good Friday? I have often wondered if it should be called black Friday instead. This day brings me to my knees in regret as I recognise despite it happening
two thousand years ago, I have played my part in nailing Jesus on the cross. Why is that? Simply put I am a sinner and it is for our sin that Jesus went to the cross.
Even 700 years before Jesus is placed on the
cross Isaiah knew it was going to be inevitable – someone without sin was going to suffer. But here is the wonderful truth in 53:12b
because he poured out his life unto
and was numbered with
For he bore the sin of
It is called good Friday because of this very
fact – Jesus has made us good, so good that we are now considered children of God. But it did come at a cost; today we remember that cost and give thanks to a God who has brought us out of slavery
Please continue to
you humbled yourself in taking the form
of a servant,
and in obedience died on the cross for
give us the mind to follow
and to proclaim you as Lord and
to the glory of God the
When we see world events unfold, we hope that
we have wise leadership and that those in charge have everyone’s best interest at heart. It leads me to ask the question what is the wisest thing that has ever been done?
Read 1 Corinthians
It might be a surprise for most to see that the
wisest thing ever done for humanity involved the destruction of one person – Jesus Christ. Yet this is ultimate wisdom and ultimate power as God unveils his rescue plan for humanity. So, what is the
wisest thing we can do? Well, you won’t be surprised to hear that it is to trust the God who rescues all who invite Jesus into thier lives and humbly come in praise of all that he has done. It may
not make sense to those who don’t yet know Jesus, but we can only pray that one day they might come to know and follow our Lord. Today, as we prepare ourselves for Easter, let us reaffirm our faith
in Jesus - God’s ultimate wisdom for all of humanity.
Please continue to
Almighty and everlasting God,
who in your
tender love towards the human race
sent your Son
our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon
him our flesh
and to suffer
death upon the cross:
grant that we
may follow the example of his patience and humility,
and also be
made partakers of his resurrection;
Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive
and reigns with you,
in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now
and for ever.
No one is
As we see our PM heading for intensive care we
naturally worry for our country and for the individual (no matter what we think of the person). We saw tributes from opposition parties as they rightly show concern for Boris Johnson. I think as we
see these sorts of news items we might ask ourselves the question; who is really in control?
Read Job 38 (and beyond if you
Job goes through an ordeal that is beyond
understanding and his friends blame his life choices though Job has most likely lived a better life than his mates so they abandoned their friend and leave him to question why to God. Job 38 is God’s
response. God has ordered everything, even amongst chaos. I wonder if we were alive 2000 years ago as we witnessed the Easter story unfold we might have thought what are you doing God? Who’s in
control because it doesn’t look like it is you. Yet out of Good Friday comes Easter Sunday and Jesus’ resurrection.
This is the time we need to place our trust in
the one who has absolute power, has our best interest at heart, I know it becomes harder when we feel things are out of our control and we feel helpless, but it is when we need God’s assurance
Please continue to
we ask for a boundless confidence
and trust in Your divine mercy,
and the courage to accept
the crosses and sufferings
which bring immense goodness
to our souls and that of Your Church.
Help us to love You
with a pure and contrite heart,
and to humble ourselves beneath Your cross,
Is now the
How many times have we been told by our culture
to seize the day? Have you ever been influenced by marketing strategies that say if you don’t act now you will miss out? I know that I have. Sometimes we act when we have not thought through the
consequences of your actions. After His baptism we might have expected for Jesus to go straight into his mission, to seize the day; but read on to see what happens:
Jesus showed that he was sensitive to God’s
timing, he also knew for his ministry to really begin he needed to face up to the age-old enemy. Not of his own past, but of our past and this was for our benefit. Jesus showed us that much can be
done as we wait on God for his command and His timing (led through the spirit). I am sure Jesus would have won no matter (as he is God), but perhaps He is helping us to see that waiting for God’s
timings are a good thing to do. This means we still continue to get ourselves ready for service and are prepared to respond to God’s call in God’s time.
Please continue to
Father, give me a greater sensitivity to your calling on my life.
Guide my decisions and my timing,
to be in line with yours
In Jesus’ name, amen.
1 April 2020
Are we ready?
Part of adjusting to what is going on we have to have a plan as to how we are going to get through the next few weeks. Plans for getting those things done that have always been put off because of a
lack of time and/or desire now become something we can do to make the lockdown a bit more bearable. In the same way, we might ask the question, do I have a plan for our spiritual well being during
this time in isolation?
Read Mark 1:1-8
Although this might be a reading we have before Christmas, it is still appropriate for today. John the Baptist shows a willingness to prepare the way for Jesus. This was not a calling that was
self-realised, it is something that is God orchestrated and John has needed spiritual preparation to carry out. John knew his place and was ready to submit to God - when the timing was right, John
did that wholeheartedly. People might say it did not end well for John – but they are missing the bigger picture; Jesus’ existence on earth enabled John’s salvation. Our spiritual preparation reminds
us that this is not our true home, our true home is more awesome than we can imagine.
Please continue to pray:
Father, show me what You want me to do today.
Shape my mind and heart.
That I might be ready to serve you.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
31 March 2020
As we continue to look at what is going to happen next there is one
thing for sure – we are all uncertain of what is going to happen next. There is one who knows what is going to happen next and you won’t be surprised for me to say that the only one who knows our
future is God. We see it time and time again, even as Jesus God still knows what is about to happen.
Read Mark 8:31-38
Jesus knows what is about to happen to him – vs31. Yet those who don’t
understand see this as not a good thing as Jesus is taken aside by Peter (I am sure it is a protective follower of Jesus) to be rebuked for what he predicts. Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter for seeing
things with eyes focused on the earth and human concerns.
We see the way of the cross might not seem to make sense to Peter at the time
but as the passion narrative unfolds, he begins to see things very differently. My prayer is that as we go through this time, we might see things in a different way, valuing things that God
continue to pray:
you gave up your Son
out of love for the world:
lead us to ponder the mysteries of his passion,
that we may know eternal peace
through the shedding of our Saviour’s blood,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Clapping for the
At 8pm yesterday we saw an amazing scene where
the entire UK was united in their support for those who are looking after us as we navigate our way through this crisis. It got me to thinking back to the candles placed in our windows and how (for
me) emotional it was as we saw pictures of people seeking to (symbolically) share Christ’s light in these seemingly dark times. In the Bible, we are called to make joyful noises to
We see the calling in vs 1 and 2 to shout out
for joy and come before Him with joyful songs. Why do we do this well it is there in vs 3 God is God and we are His people. It might be more difficult for us (depending on our circumstances) to be
joyful, but we are joyful, not because we live in a broken world, we are joyful because of the one who said he was the gate has given us access to the temple’s court. We now have access to the Lord
God through Jesus. That is where our joy is derived, a joy that can take us through the dark patches - however long they may be
Please continue to
Father, our source of life,
you know our weakness.
May we reach out with joy to grasp your
and walk more readily in your
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
one God, forever and ever.
26 March 2020
In August 1519 Huldrych Zwingli was on vacation when the plague broke out in his home town of
Zurich. Despite his exhaustion, he hurried back to serve God. Whilst tending to the sick he himself became ill and was at death's door – yet despite all of his health he made a full recovery. In the
aftermath of his experience, he wrote a hymn known as Zwingli’s Plague Hymn. It may be that for most of us we will not need to fear the Covid-19 virus, but it has still affected us. So, it is all the
more important to lean in on God, as did Zwingli in his nation’s darkest hour.
This morning I want us to make this hymn our prayer
Please continue to pray:
Help me, O Lord,
Lo, at the
hear death’s knock.
And set me
Yet, if thy
In faith and
For I am
My pains increase;
For fear and
Death is at
My tongue is
To snatch his
feel his grasp;
Must I give
He harms me
fear no loss,
For here I
My God! My
Healed by the
Once more I
Let sin no
My hour will
But, let it
With joy I’ll
And bear my
25 March 2020
What is Essential?
It is now interesting that we find ourselves debating about what services are essential, for example, is construction essential and if
so; construction of what? We also saw a certain sports equipment provider state they were amongst the essential services to keep our nation healthy. But what is essential for the health of our nation
today are all those key workers ensuring we are cared for, fed and protected and I am grateful for their hard work at such a difficult time. But what is truly essential at such a time is hope,
perhaps a hope that this will end soon (but what if it doesn’t?). I believe that we as Christians have the ultimate hope.
Please read: Romans 5:1-11
Look at verse 2b “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God” it seems strange does it not - to boast in the hope of the glory of
God? What is this glory? Well John 1:14 tells us 14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of
grace and truth”. Where do we find out about God’s glory, in the Bible, when we meet together, in prayer so if this is the case these are our essentials as a Christian community. If you can, I want
to encourage you to join us on Sundays for our interactive Sunday service where will continue to support one another (see our website stmarysweldon.uk for details)
Please continue to pray:
Dear Lord, help me –
Every single morning to find faith in the midst of the chaos.
Give me the desire and ability to see You,
hear You, talk to You, and give thanks to You.
And as I do, I pray that I will draw nearer and nearer to You,
and that my faith will multiply exponentially as I understand in new,
deeper ways that You are everything I ever hoped You would be.
And so much more. Amen.
If you would like to listen to this song reminding us where our hope is derived.
24 March 2020
Yesterday we heard a prime minister say something we thought we would never hear you are not to leave your home unless it is deemed a
necessity. The tone from our PM was akin to a wartime speech and it feels very much like that – we are at war, but our enemy is invisible. This makes it difficult to understand why we should be in
lockdown as one of my family commented, the world outside still looks the same. Yet these measures have been put in place because people who felt they we not at risk decided to carry on as normal.
What they didn’t understand was the risk put on others and themselves by their actions – in a way this is the issue with sin in this world, sin is mostly invisible, but deadly for
Please read: Philippians 2:1-4
We are called to look after others and consider their needs more than our own, not because it is a good moral principle (which it is),
instead it is because Jesus considered our needs above his own when he went to the cross. He is the one who has brought us out of isolation with God and we respond with joy as we look to follow his
example of service and consideration of others. So as our government has enforced our lockdown, we might react with pride that tells us that rights have been violated; whilst humility tells us that
this is for the good of others, so we should listen to our PM. So it is the same in our spiritual life pride tells me that I am free to do what I like, humility tells me that God is the source of
everything that we have so we should listen to Him and worship Him.
Please continue to pray:
The prayer from the CofE website for today
you know our struggle to serve you:
when sin spoils our lives
and overshadows our hearts,
come to our aid
and turn us back to you again;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
23 March 2020
Today is Louise’s birthday (yes 21 again), but the celebrations feel somewhat subdued as we
continue to adjust to everyday life in very different times. It is at this time I am reminded of lent a time of giving up something to discover something far greater than we can imagine. Lent is a
time of reflection and in this time, we have a chance to focus our attention on God. Yes, lent is a human invention and observing it does not give us salvation, but lent is based on remembering
Jesus’ 40 days of preparation in the desert, in isolation, going without so much yet sill focused on his heavenly father.
Please read: Matthew
Jesus was ready for anything that the devil was going to throw at him, even at his most
vulnerable moments, our Lord was strong. Whilst we may not possess that strength, we can call upon the very same Jesus who does. For me, that is what we must now do, focus on growing in faith, by
reading God’s word and praying finding joy in the small things and big things that God has given us. Let us start with our Jesus who secured our future, in this, we can fully celebrate as
one day eternity will put today in perspective, a time when every day will be even better than our best birthday celebrations.
Please continue to
The prayer from the CofE website for today
Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy.
Sustain and support the anxious,
be with those who care for the sick,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may find comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
21 March 2020
Last night something really amazing happened we were playing Linkee (a game where you answer questions that are linked and you need to guess the link) with the Kirby’s over zoom.us and
whilst playing we managed to connect with our friends in New Zealand and we ended up with a three way game of Linkee. Just think we were about 400m away from the Kirby’s and 13,000 miles away from
our Kiwi fiends! It got me thinking that this is an opportunity to connect with old friends and show God’s love in a very simple way. It also gives us an opportunity as a church to connect as well. I
want to start by opening up a time of prayer and conversation on Sunday morning 9:30am as our Church service. If you want to join the follow this link on Sunday https://zoom.us/j/305091166 The good news is that anyone might want to join us and they are welcome to. You will need to download an app but it works really
Please read: Ecclesiastes 3:1-14
We are reminded that there is a time for all things I think now is a time to reflect on God’s glory and we can do that gathered via technology. For me, vs11 is so amazing our God has placed in our
hearts some knowledge of the eternal, as we ourselves wouldn’t be able to work it out. That has to be the ultimate definition of mercy. Whilst It is clear we will never fathom the depth of God’s
goodness; in community we can encourage one another – let’s start with Sunday.
Please continue to pray
This is a prayer from Ash Wednesday (but I think it works for today)
you have given your only Son to be for us
both a sacrifice for sin
and also an example of godly life:
give us grace
that we may always most thankfully receive
these his inestimable gifts,
and also daily endeavour
to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
20 March 2020
A Glimmer of Hope
I wonder if you saw the news from China that for the first time since the outbreak there were no new corona cases domestically, instead, it is those now traveling to China who is bringing the
virus in. I wonder was that reassuring enough as we look at the long months ahead of uncertainty? We heard that we will beat this thing in twelve weeks, but, in reality, the one who made the
statement isn’t really in a position to enable it to happen – after this what happens when corona breaks out again? Was hearing the PMs statement reassuring?
Please read: Revelations 21:1-8
This is a promise from a God who has the power to make this happen for us all, yet we do need the key to unlock this promise. The key to this kind of relationship with God is not what we do, but
who we follow. If we are followers of Jesus, then we can be assured that He has given us the vaccine to sin (the thing that was stopping us from such an amazing relationship with God). If you follow
Jesus then be reassured this is your future. If you are not then maybe now is a time to hold onto the promises that God has made in His son Jesus. What is the alternative?
Please continue to pray:
God of love,
turn our hearts to your ways;
and give us peace.
Pray for the children no longer at school
Pray for the school staff as they look to allow school to continue running for our key workers.
If there are specific prayers for you and your family please do share them as we look towards our heavenly Father for the way forward.
19 March 2020
As the UK government (rightly) looks into more and more measures to mitigate the potential spread of coronavirus we will be more isolated than ever before. The question remains how do we remain a
cohesive community. We have seen ways that people are doing this by joining in community events through media, through the window and some who gather (ensuring they are two meters apart) on the
So how do we join together as a church … read on
For today please read Romans 12:3-8
Paul is reminding us that we are community through one person (Vs5) who is our Lord Jesus. Because of this we are not only connected to those in Weldon who follow Jesus, but we are one with all
our fellow believers. So we must not approach this truth with pride in our own achievements; as we are told in vs3 “do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself
with sober judgment”. Once we have reminded ourselves of what God has done for each of us, we are to reflect His generosity. All of us have gifts and we should use them in serving Jesus – this then
naturally leads us to serve each other and our community. The gifts we are given the need to be given to others with a heart of generosity, not because it is our Christian duty, it is given in joy in
response to what Jesus has done for us.
If you feel you have a gift that could be used (I think we all have) please let me know how you would like to help share the good news of Jesus with our community. This is how we are going to
continue to be a Christian community in physical isolation. Always remember we are in spiritual unity through Christ as “one body”.
Please continue to pray:
Continue to pray for each other as we look to use the spare time, we may now have on our hands to deepen our relationship with our heavenly father.
Pray for those having to make decisions on what to do next (particularly our politicians) as the constantly changing landscape of our future.
Pray for those who are unsure of their future, those on zero-hour contracts, the self-employed, small business owners and those employed by them.
If there are specific prayers for you and your family please do share them as we look towards our heavenly Father for the way forward.
18 March 2020
Yesterday it has been confirmed by the Archbishop that all church of England services has been put on hold until further notice. This means all of the churches' physical activity must stop (for now).
This poses a massive challenge for the way we operate, as a big part of what we do is done in community.
Now we need to be community in a very different way, but we are still called to be a community, supporting and loving one another and from that, we continue to be a support to our community.
Archbishop Welby asked that we light a candle on Sunday evening at 7pm to show that we stand with our community whilst remembering we are call to shine Jesus’ light into this world. If you can, could
you please support this call from the Archbishop.
For today please read 1 Peter 5:6-11
In 1 Peter we are called to “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God” because if we do we are able to “cast all your anxieties on Him” and this is done “because He cares for you”.
I have seen faces of people who are looking fearful and that can be catchy, when you feel worried please remember where we can turn - cast your anxieties on Jesus.
We are also called to be rational people not tempted to fall into the trap of insecurity (like have I got enough toilet paper, but in all seriousness, there are deep insecurities that lie with most
of us). It is insecurity that the devil can sow seeds of doubt. We are in this together as brothers and sisters in Christ, so it is all the more important we stand shoulder to shoulder despite not
being able to do this physically. I want to encourage you to call each other regularly pray with each other over the phone so we are virtually standing shoulder to shoulder. In making ourselves
accountable to each other we can sure each other up when our deep insecurities come to the surface.
Why do we do this? We are told why in vs10, Christianity has never promised us an escape from difficulty, but it promises something quite unique restoration with God – this is the ultimate hope we
Please continue to pray:
Continue to pray for each other as we look to use the spare time, we may now have on our hands to deepen our relationship with our heavenly father.
Pray for those who are suffering from the virus. Pray for our NHS as they will be stretched to breaking point. Give thanks for all the medical staff and pray that they would be given the energy to
carry out their duties.
Pray for our church as we hit the pause button (for now) that we can find good ways to remain connected to our community.
On a practical note, we are acting as a contact point for those who might feel vulnerable at this time. We have a list of volunteers willing to help out in various ways, we also have a food store in
our shed. Pray for protection for the food and that it would go to those who need it most. Pray that people who need help would ask for it as we seek to serve our community.
If there are specific prayers for you and your family please do share them as we look towards our heavenly Father for the way forward.
And finally pray, Vs11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Prayer for 17th March 2020
It is with great sadness that I am going to call off all prayer meetings for the foreseeable future as we look to follow government guidelines. I will be considering closing church as well as we
look to get through this crisis. Though we can’t meet it doesn’t mean we cannot pray so I would like to encourage you all to be praying for our community and for the world.
During this time, I will look to post daily prayer points on our website www.stmarysweldon.uk
For today please read 1 Chronicles 16:8-17
This passage reminds us of several things about God firstly our God is a promise-making promise-keeping God. The promises he made to the patriarchs hold true for us today. God tells us that in
covenant relationship I will be your God and you will be my people. The new covenant promise that was brought to us has been won by Jesus’ life death and resurrection, where God’s covenant is now
extended to those who seek to be disciples of Jesus (the one who brings about God’s ultimate justice).
Looking at vs 11-12 we see that we are called (as covenant people) to firstly; “Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always” this means at times of crisis we must seek God’s face
always as he is the rock on which we can place our hope and where we will never be let down (even in a crisis).
Secondly, we are to; “Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,” for those who follow Jesus the ultimate wonder, miracle and judgment are found in Christ. We
can also see God’s wonders creation around us and give thanks for every detail that he has given us as well. Ultimately in remembering these things, our response is our praise and adoration of God.
So, let us praise our God and remind ourselves that God has a plan for our salvation, all we need to do is place ourselves at His mercy and trust Him. Our relationship with God is deepened in our
prayer life so let us pray to our God and remember His deeds.
For each other, as we look to use the spare time we may now have on our hands to deepen our relationship with our heavenly father. Pray for our leadership team as we seek to make wise decisions
into the near future.
During these times those who do not yet know Jesus would stop placing their hope material things and start seeking out God as they realise the things they have placed their hope on can fail,
instead they find comfort in God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Pray for our groups as we hit the pause button (for now) that we can find good ways to remain connected to our community.
On a practical note, we are acting as a contact point for those who might feel vulnerable at this time. We have a list of volunteers willing to help out in various ways, we also have a food store
in our shed. Pray for protection for the food and that it would go to those who need it most. Pray that people who need help would ask for it as we seek to serve our community.
If there are specific prayers for you and your family please do share them as we look towards our heavenly Father for the way forward.
Here is a prayer we wrote at our All Age service 10th January
(based on the Lord's Prayer)
Father, Creator We love your name
We will see you soon,
We will try and do as you ask,
today and always
Please look after us and we pray for enough food to eat,
Accept us and give us another chance when we are not being very good
and all the rubbish that gets between me and you.
Stop us being upset when people are naughty
and hurt us or your world
Help us not to do the things we know to be wrong
and keep us out of trouble and bad company.
Lord, you have created everything that touches our lives.
Always have, always will.
We are grateful for this. Amen